LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts expressed support for allowing more faith-based practices in Nebraska schools at an event Wednesday celebrating Religious Freedom Week.
Ricketts’ comments came in response to a question about a tweet from Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen, a University of Nebraska regent and Columbus pork producer. Ricketts, who cannot run for re-election due to term limits, has been a strong supporter of Pillen’s campaign for governor.
“We need to put God back in our schools,” Pillen tweeted Monday. “I strongly support efforts to bring prayer back into our K-12 schools. We should be teaching the next generation to love God and our great country.”
We need to put God back into our schools. I strongly support efforts to put prayer back into our K-12 schools. We should be teaching the next generation to love God and our great country. https://t.co/zlFMkYwDrR
— Jim Pillen (@jim_pillen) June 27, 2022
The tweet referred to news of Monday’s US Supreme Court ruling that determined a Washington high school football coach was within his rights to pray in midfield after football games . Pillen’s comments have fueled a strong reaction online, with more than 600 responses, many of them critical.
Critics argued that instilling religion in the classroom would violate the Nebraska State Constitution and contradict the separation of church and state.
People also read…
Matt Trail with the Pillen campaign told the World-Herald that Pillen had been campaigning to bring God back into the schools from about the start of his gubernatorial campaign. A booklet on his platform, called “The Pillen Playbook,” goes into more depth, saying he wants prayer brought back to K-12 schools, especially Christian prayer.
“The erosion of the Christian faith is hurting America,” read one section. “Secular humanism invaded our schools because we allowed radical ideologues to silence our nation’s Christian beliefs.”
Article 1-4 of the Nebraska State Constitution states:
“All persons have a natural and inalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the precepts of their own conscience. No one shall be compelled to frequent, erect, or support a place of worship without his consent, and no preference shall shall be granted by law to any religious society, and no interference with the rights of conscience shall be permitted…. Religion, morality, and knowledge being, however, essential to good government, it will be incumbent on the legislature to adopt appropriate laws to protect every religious denomination in the peaceful enjoyment of its own mode of public worship, and to encourage schools and the means of instruction”.
Ricketts said he hadn’t seen Pillen’s tweet, but he believes the Supreme Court ruling establishes the right of students and school employees to pray on school property.
“Allowing that type of religious accommodation is one of the things that I think would be a good thing for schools to think about,” Ricketts said.
Ricketts said the concept of separation between church and state stemmed from Thomas Jefferson’s concerns that the government might interfere with religion and impose a specific faith on the public. However, Ricketts argued that a separation does not mean that government and religion should not be connected at all.
Ricketts pointed out that the US motto bears the phrase “In God We Trust” and that the Nebraska Legislature begins each session day with a prayer.
Earlier in the press conference, Rabbi Eli Tenenbaum suggested schools add a moment of silence during the day for students of all faiths to reflect on their religion, and Ricketts supported that idea.
The governor then expanded on that point and said he would support letting local school boards and parents decide whether to implement a prayer period on school days for individual districts.
Critics of the Supreme Court’s decision argued that it was a departure from legal precedent. Rose Godinez, legal and policy adviser for the ACLU of Nebraska, said earlier this week that the decision was “a blow to the principle that students have the religious freedom to be free from school-sponsored prayer. “.