BILLINGS - After the Montana Legislature passed two bills this session relaxing rules governing prayer and religious reading materials in schools, a group gathered in Billings in support.
House Bills 474 and 475 were both authored by Republican Rep. Greg Kmetz of Miles City. One permits praying for both teachers and students, while the other allows religious conversation as well as religious reading material in the classroom.
Those bills were on the minds of many at the Yellowstone County courthouse lawn Thursday, where the National Day of Prayer was celebrated with prayer and religious music.
Charlotte Case was one of the many parents at Thursday's festivities celebrating Montana's recent laws.
"I believe the more that you bring spirituality back in the classroom, the better kids are going to be doing," Case said on the courthouse lawn Thursday afternoon. "It will kind of uplift them for the rest of the day."
Kmetz said the motivation behind the bills was purely to enrich the school experience for Montanans, not take away or single out any one religion.
"We tried to make it all inclusive," Kmetz said. "We tried not to limit it to Christian only or Bible only."
Kmetz argued that adding religion to the education system will actually help expand the students' knowledge.
"That's what a school situation should be like, is to help expose students to a lot of different subjects and a lot of different views on life."
The two bills, which were signed into law by Gov. Greg Gianforte, come at a time when other states are pursuing similar measures. In Texas, the state Senate just passed a bill that would allow the ten commandments to appear in classrooms.
It's a debate that has been going on for years, and it continued this year at the Montana Capitol.
"If this really is about religions, why do we need to call out the Bible?" Montana Rep. Eric Matthews, D-Bozeman, asked during a discussion about the bills. "Why are we not listing the Bible, the Quran and whatever religious texts there are."
Another representative, Democratic Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy of Box Elder, said that the legislation is offensive and neglects Native American culture.
"Before 1492, there was never a religion on this land," Windy Boy said. "There was a way of life. My ceremonies do not reflect this. All of the students in my tribe here and throughout Montana are excluded from this."
According to Gallup, there is a massive decrease in the amount of Americans who believe in God. In 1967, 90 percent of the country said they believed in God. In 2022, those numbers dropped to 81 percent.
And while those numbers have declined, Case is one parent that is happy that religion can be a part of her children's education.
"They absorb so much, and they learn so much," Case said. "So, if you start young with your children and teaching them about prayer, they can know that from the beginning."