Prayer in School? Apparently, It’s Legal in Mississippi

While some teachers are getting in trouble for what they say or do in their personal lives while teaching at private religious schools, here’s a story of a teacher who barely gets a slap on the wrist for bringing religion directly into the public school classroom.

Alice Hawley teaches math at Franklin County High School in Mississippi. For 17 years now, she’s been leading students in prayer in class.

The superintendent recently met with her and told her to stop.

At the meeting, Hawley said [superintendent Grady L.] Fleming asked her to read the law about prayer in school and sign it.

“I did not sign it,” Hawley said. “If I have a child requesting prayer, I will pray for them.”

She didn’t sign it, so she was fired.

And then she was rehired a day later.

“They called me at lunch to come down to the central office with my principal,” she said. “(Fleming) more or less told us, since they didn’t have any documentation, they would reinstate me.”

They didn’t have any documentation?! She admits to doing it! She says she’s done it for 17 years! What more do you need?!

If I told students to repeat after me, “God is just a figment of your imagination,” I would be fired in a heartbeat. As I should be.

Hell, you think she’d still have her job if she were a Muslim teacher leading the class in prayer?

The community would be raising their fiery pitchforks in anger if that happened.

How does Hawley explain her actions?

When she comes back in the fall, Hawley said she will continue to pray for students. At the beginning of the school year, she asks students if they are uncomfortable with prayer in the classroom.

“If anyone does not want to pray, I ask them to tell me,” Hawley said. “If they don’t want to voice their opinion, they can write me a note, and we will not have prayer in that class.

“If they go home, and their parents do not want them to pray in class, then we do not have it.”

But in the 17 years that she has been teaching, Hawley said she has yet to have a student or a parent not want prayer in the classroom.

Usually, it’s a good idea to not piss off the person who’s going to give you a grade. No wonder people haven’t said anything.

But, hey, Ms. Hawley, I’m complaining! You’re breaking the law! You’re offending anyone who’s not religious and is afraid to tell you. You’re offending everyone who wants you to get in the classroom and do your job and stop wasting time on prayer.

In case you want to be even more upset about this story, read the comments here. Frightening.

Mississippi: the “the lowest-performing state in both math and science.”

You’re beginning to see why.

(Thanks to Rob for the link)

  • SpencerDub

    It’s really beginning to bother me to see people like this acting as though the Constitution is a suggestion, a mere, “If you don’t mind, we’d rather you didn’t.”

    Following the supreme law of the land is not up to a vote.

  • http://www.banalleakage.com martymankins

    This makes me wonder how teachers like this equate other laws. “The light was red, but since there were no other cars around, I went through it.” Flawed logic at it’s worst.

  • Bob

    Stories like this drive me crazy, because I learned algebra from a nun and Jesuit brother, neither of whom brought prayer into their classrooms, because the subject was mathematics.

    Does prayer put you in a more receptive frame of mind to learn? Make your calculations more accurate? Give you special insight into resolving x? NO.

    Why is it that atheists are always accused of being ‘dishonest’ when the real dishonesty is coming from folks who don’t understand a simple rule: ‘YOU CAN’T PRAY IN A PUBLIC SCHOOL.’?

  • Will

    This is just scary. The fact that she can get away with it with no consequences disgusts me.

  • Sellers_as_Quilty

    Unreal.

    The law is extremely clear on this. When she didn’t sign the law, she should have been sanctioned, and warned that, if she did it again she would be suspended. Or fired.

    The teacher’s comments are extraordinary because, as Hemant will tell you, everyone who teaches knows EXACTLY what the law is, knows EXACTLY what they can and cannot do. Either she’s pretending not to know the law, or she’s too stupid to comprehend it. Either way, she’s not competent.

    Teachers who do this need to be sanctioned. Period.

  • King Awesomeson

    Bro, you gotta remember, this is Mississippi. Haven’t you met Mr Burgess? http://www.soundboard.com/sb/Mr_Burgess_prank_calls.aspx

  • microbiologychick

    This is exactly what happens in small southern towns. The school blatantly breaks the law, but no one will speak up because they know they will be abused for it.

  • Sellers_as_Quilty

    This is exactly what happens in small southern towns. The school blatantly breaks the law, but no one will speak up because they know they will be abused for it.

    You are correct. There’s just no way to measure it. Prayer in public schools is RAMPANT. This teacher’s behavior is not as extraordinary as you think.

  • Icaarus

    Okay I am going to be the one un-liked again for this comment but I agree with the school for rehiring her. While I hate the thought of group prayer in school and what this teacher said makes me physically ill, that is still not grounds for termination. You can only terminate in the case of documented event(s) that warrant termination. No documentation no firing (no her admissions do not count) so just wait. Document each time she leads the class in prayer, cite her on it, and once the requisite number of citations have been logged then kick her to the curb. Just because she is doing something wrong does not mean we should break the laws to rectify it.

  • http://chaoskeptic.blogspot.com Iason Ouabache

    Why do they hate the Constitution so much?

  • Ubi Dubium

    Why do they hate the Constitution so much?

    They don’t hate it. They’ve just stopped believing in it, kind of like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. :)

  • http://yetanotheratheist.net Yet Another Atheist

    Funny how they’ll believe in God, but pretend the Constitution doesn’t even exist.

  • Ann

    They’re horrible at math because the bibbble says, 1+1+1=1

  • Sellers_as_Quilty

    I don’t think she should be fired either, not for one offense. She’s entitled to due process, and there is (I’m sure) a disciplinary procedure in place to deal with teachers who have done improper things or broken the rules/laws. She’s entitled to that process.

    Having said that, this teacher has essentially expressed no remorse, and has in fact expressed her intent not to abide by the rules. She seems unwilling to acknowledge that her actions were in violation. The question is, what do we do with teachers like that? The policies she has to abide by are lawful. If she refuses to abide by them, the district has the right to sanction her—which could culminate in termination. If she wants to challenge the policies by saying they are unlawful or unfair, she can file suit and do so in court, not in the frickin’ classroom.

  • sarah

    The comments to that article are horrible! There are some glimmers of truth by people.

    “Absolutely. Let’s REQUIRE prayer in all public school class rooms.”

    Yikes.

  • CdAHumanist

    I think a simple “cease and desist” letter from the FFRF or the ACLU would nip this little problem in the bud…..

  • pmsrhino

    @martymankins

    But everyone knows running a red light is totally okay is God tells you to do it. When flawed logic involves God it is no longer flawed. It’s holy.

    Or some such bullshit.

    And yeah, the comments on that article pretty much made my head explode. If these people want their kids praying then they should take them to a freakin’ church and/or Sunday school. A REAL normal school isn’t for that shit.

  • Richard Wade

    Why do they hate the Constitution so much?

    They’re spoiled brats. They have been in the coddled, privileged majority for so long, they take their freedom to worship as they choose for granted. They assume that freedom is always there, like the air. No, it’s there because men and women keep fighting and dying for it, and it’s written down in the Constitution for everybody, not just for the majority. They want all the privileges but none of the responsibility. To them, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, if they pay any attention to them at all, are a pesky “liberal agenda” that keeps interfering with their ability to force everybody to conform to their ways. They are their own freedom’s worst enemy.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ WMDKitty

    This, right here, is what’s wrong with America.

  • Jolly

    Isn’t this how priests get away with rape? Well, no parents complained and when they did we moved the priest to a different parish. No one complaining is not a valid excuse.

  • jcm

    Doesn’t she know that praying in public is against the bible:

    But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. (Math 6:6, KJV)

  • Justin

    Easy enough to document the prayer. Almost every cell phone has a microphone on it. Get a student to record one of the prayers, spread it around online, and the school will be left with no choice but to fire her.

  • Amanda

    The thing about teacher-led prayer being “optional” for students is BS. In my high school marching band the band prayed after every meeting (after each class, after each practice, before we’d go on the field to perform, pretty much every day). They got around the laws by asking a student to lead us in prayer instead of the teachers doing it.

    I was an atheist, but I joined hands and bowed my head with my classmates, because I was 15 and I was (seemingly) the only one with any objection, and I was afraid to be ostracized by my classmates if I voiced my opinions. If I had been in this algebra class, I’d have done the same thing.

  • Korou

    Disturbing.

    But, by the way, I think that comment “Let’s REQUIRE school prayer,” was sarcasm.

  • Carol B

    Funny how they scream about “upholding the Constitution” and “defending the Constitution” right up until the moment it becomes inconvenient for them.

    Actually, it’s not funny at all.

  • Rob

    I posted this link as a comment yesterday, and I live near the school in question.

    Without disagreeing with any of your comments, I would like to point out that just the fact that she got in trouble at all is a huge step forward for this area. It’s a very small win, but a win nonetheless.

  • Shelby.

    I don’t understand why it’s so hard for people to understand seperation of church & state. The Bible has also been called ‘The Law’, so I don’t see why people who want to try their best to follow the Bible’s ‘Law’, can’t seem to understand & follow their own country’s law.
    1 Peter 2:13- “For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution.”

    I don’t see anything wrong with praying for a child if the child came up & asked you to pray for them, but I don’t think it’s right to pray over the whole class.

  • TychaBrahe

    We need undercover atheists in school to stop the “religion trade,” the same way we put undercover cops in schools to deal with drugs.

    I wish that was my classroom. I’d offer to lead the prayer one day. I have one that I wrote in my Pagan days, a lovely little song with a descant that goes:

    Isis, Astarte, Diana, Hecate,
    Demeter, Kali, Innana.

  • Dan W

    What a crappy teacher. Has she even read the Constitution? Just reading the First Amendment would be enough. And the school administration also deserves equal blame for allowing her to do this for so long, and for not firing her permanently. Ugh, the article comments are stupid. Why did I bother reading them?

  • reparker

    Which state is lowest on the Human Development Index? Oh, that’s right, Mississppi is.

  • SickoftheUS

    My favorite part about the Natchez newspaper link is the banner ad offer for a FREE FLAG with a 3 month subscription!

  • aerie66

    Slightly off topic: my daughter’s HS principal handed each graduating senior a little Gideon-type bible (in school colors no less). The wk before the ceremony she had several students help her by stamping her signature inside ea one along with a sticker quoting a particular scripture(her fav? idk). Nice. But we’re in the rural south, too so it’s a presumption of religion for everybody.

  • Samiimas

    But in the 17 years that she has been teaching, Hawley said she has yet to have a student or a parent not want prayer in the classroom.

    My school forced us to pray on holidays and at every single pep rally. Obviously since I never went up to a teacher and told them I wanted it stopped I must have supported them. I wouldn’t have any reason to hide my opposition, no reason to think that the teachers who lectured us about how evil and stupid atheists are might treat someone unfairly for admitting to be one. No reason to think that the kids who already harassed me on a daily basis for not believing their fairytale might do something to me. No reason to think that the teachers who gossip about every little thing might tell people I’m the mean old atheist who got prayers canceled.

    Yep. Since nobody ever complained about the public prayers at school obviously nobody has a problem with them. Just like how since no one at my high school ever reported the coach who slept with half of the girl’s softball team that must mean they where all completely okay with that to. They couldn’t have been scared of the repercussions or anything…

  • Scootah

    “if she were a Muslim”

    I’ve seen this ‘if a Muslim did it, it would never be tolerated’ argument several times in recent blog posts from Friendly Athiest and I think it diminishes the credibility of your point.

    It seems that your argument is that the bias, fear, and hysterical bigotry aimed towards Islam should compel equivalent bias, fear and hysterical bigotry towards all religious groups. That’s not a rationalist position – that’s the argument of a petulant child; ‘If billy broke the window, he wouldn’t have been grounded!’ – and it seems out of place given the idealized nature of rationalist skeptics.

    I agree that the behaviour of the teacher in question is inappropriate. But I’m not sure that calling for her head, or whining that if she were Muslim, everyone would be calling for her head, is an appropriate response.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    It seems that your argument is that the bias, fear, and hysterical bigotry aimed towards Islam should compel equivalent bias, fear and hysterical bigotry towards all religious groups.

    I don’t think that’s the argument Hemant is making at all. Rather, he seems to be pointing out the irony of the situation. No one here is advocating hysterical bigotry as an appropriate response, but the fact is that if a teacher was leading Muslim prayers in the Deep South, you’d see the local community respond with exactly that sort of prejudice. They pat themselves on the back for breaking the law, yet they would condemn the same action carried out by a disfavored minority group.

    The double irony is that these people are happy to disregard the Constitution, yet they fail to see that the same document protects them from being similarly disrespected if they were ever to become the “out group” in society. In a far-distant future in which Mississippi is primarily Muslim and Hindu, our Constitution would protect their children from being subjected to those prayers in a public school setting. They don’t appear to understand that starting a tradition of teacher-led prayer may backfire on them someday.

  • http://wildmonky.deviantart.com James

    Christians: where any law is ok to break as long as it makes you look like a martyr (With out actually dying, of course, after all this is the 21st Century).

  • Ira

    This is just awesome she gives anyone a chance to object even anonymously if they want so there is no attention drawn to them and there are no consequences for them objecting. Christian values are what this great country we live in were founded on like it or not. Those same values give you the right to have a differing opinion. And by the way yes I am a Christian and yes if you will let me pray in school I will be happy to allow any other religion to pray as well even Satanists if they want. (An even playing field if you will.) and lets let the kids make their choice instead of forcing them to choose no God. I think that the anti-god and anti-prayer crowd is scared to let a few nut job Christian (like myself) in because they just might choose to follow a God you don’t believe in. Then what?

  • Ira (chritian youth leader)

    This is just awesome she gives anyone a chance to object even anonymously if they want so there is no attention drawn to them and there are no consequences for them objecting. Christian values are what this great country we live in were founded on like it or not. Those same values give you the right to have a differing opinion. And by the way yes I am a Christian and yes if you will let me pray in school I will be happy to allow any other religion pray as well even Satanists if they want. (An even playing field if you will.) and lets let the kids make their choice instead of forcing them to choose no God. I think that the anti-god and anti-prayer crowd is scared to let a few nut job Christian (like myself) in because they just might choose to follow a God you don’t believe in. Then what? Please post my comment or does it not fit your stereotype for Christians does it stop your close minded hate for Christian and their view points

  • Paul

    After hearing this story and Mrs. Hawley’s vow to continue leading her class in prayer, I sent a complaint to American’s United for Separation of Church and State and as a result, they sent a letter to the school demanding that Mrs. Hawley stop leading her class on prayer. They were given 30 days to respond and I just heard (I’m trying to confirm it) that Mrs. Hawley resigned.

  • http://www.facebook.com/katiefulmer1982 Katie Fulmer

    Um, if any of you actually read the law and the article you would see the students initiated the prayer request.  and as stated in mississippi law it is permitted if the student initiates. it.  get over it.  

     Code Section37-13-4.1Provisions
    Student-initiated voluntary prayer permitted on school property


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