A School Prayer Bill in Mississippi Will Allow for More Student-Led, Administration-Supported Proselytization

Let’s get this straight right now: Students are allowed to pray in school. No one has ever taken that right away from them. What public schools can’t do is force everyone to say a prayer over the loudspeaker, at a football game, at an assembly, etc.

So you have to wonder why Senate Bill 2633 (PDF) in Mississippi is even necessary. The bill, called the “Mississippi Student Religious Liberties Act of 2013,” would take those rights and then tack on a whole bunch of illegal methods of pushing religion in school.

What does the bill call for? Among other things, it says that students can “express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination” (which was never in doubt) and that students can form religious clubs that meet before or after schools (which was also never in doubt).

Here’s where it gets weird and very possibly illegal:

To ensure that the school district does not discriminate against a student’s publicly stated voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint, if any, and to eliminate any actual or perceived affirmative school sponsorship or attribution to the district of a student’s expression of a religious viewpoint, if any, a school district shall adopt a policy, which must include the establishment of a limited public forum for student speakers at all school events at which a student is to publicly speak. The policy regarding the limited public forum must also require the school district to:

(a) Provide the forum in a manner that does not discriminate against a student’s voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint, if any, on an otherwise permissible subject;

(b) Provide a method, based on neutral criteria, for the selection of student speakers at school events and graduation ceremonies;

(c) Ensure that a student speaker does not engage in obscene, vulgar, offensively lewd or indecent speech; and

(d) State, in writing, orally, or both, that the student’s speech does not reflect the endorsement, sponsorship, position or expression of the district.

Here’s what that means in English: At football games, pep rallies, graduations, and morning announcements — anywhere where students speak — they must be allowed to pray. The school would have to offer a disclaimer that they’re not endorsing these views, but rather offering a “limited public forum.”

Since Christians are in the majority in the state, this means students of minority faiths (and no faith) would be subject to hearing Christian prayers at just about all school functions.

On Wednesday, the Mississippi House voted 108-6 in favor of the bill and Gov. Phil Bryant (a Republican, of course) is expected to sign the bill into law very soon.

Ashton Pittman explains the real significance of this legislation:

First of all, while gays, lesbians, transgender people, black people, Hispanic people, Native Americans and women face actual and structural discrimination in Mississippi, evangelical Christians most certainly do not. It’s quite disingenuous for these people, who often advocate for and uphold discrimination against real minority groups, to pretend that Christians — of all groups — need some sort of special protection against discrimination in Mississippi. Sorry, a 108 vote majority says you’re not eligible for a slice of the victimhood pie.

This is unnecessary legislation, and the idea that Christians need more opportunities to pray is ridiculous.

I know it’s a stereotype, but Mississippi’s education system could use some real help. But instead of passing laws that would actually benefit students, the bill’s sponsor, State Senator Chris McDaniel, is more concerned about whether Christians have ample opportunity to proselytize during school hours.

The ACLU of Mississippi says they’ll file a lawsuit if they need to. That hesitation seems unnecessary. Start drafting that lawsuit now because this bill will pass and the state government’s going to be embroiled in another faith-based distraction.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • dcl3500

    Have to wonder what kind of support from the administration the kids that bring prayer mats and kneel, facing the East several times a day will be getting…

  • cipher

    Sorry, a 108 vote majority says you’re not eligible for a slice of the victimhood pie.

    You take that away from them, and they have nothing left.

    It’s Mississippi, Hemant. Their geography textbooks have maps that say, “There be dragons here.”

  • Stephen Tomilson

    This bill sounds very similar to a school policy that was shut down by the US Supreme Court. Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe ,530 U.S. 290 (2000). It was unconstitutional then and its unconstitutional now.

  • Carpinions

    Death threats, vandalism, shunning, mocking behavior, outright discrimination in front of large groups, and elitist statements made belittling them or their beliefs are my guess.

  • Billy Bob

    Gotta love how they include in the name of the bill “Religious Liberties Act”. Sounds like a way they can paint any opponents of it as being against religious liberty.

  • CoboWowbo

    That’s Louisiana, but Mississippi isn’t far off.

  • Octoberfurst

    When will this idiocy end? Seriously. I’m so sick and tired of these religious wackjobs trying to force people to listen to their prayers. Pray at home. Pray at church. Pray quietly by yourself at school. But don’t put prayers over the intercom in the morning or at every school function. Idiots.

  • Miss_Beara

    I guess they solved their economy issues, insanely high obesity rates, teen pregnancy, poverty and education problems that they have spare time to pass a bill that protects one of the most religious states in the country from imaginary persecution.

    Congrats Mississi- oh wait. You still have all of those problems, real problems. Maybe if the most religious state in the country just prays really hard, God will- oh, they still have all of those problems despite the fact they pray? Well, I’ll be darned…

  • Miss_Beara

    They must have skipped Matthew 6:6, if they read the bible at all.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-B-Appleton/774912234 David B. Appleton

    And here I thought that Alabama’s unofficial state motto is: “At least we’re not Mississippi.”

  • A3Kr0n

    I’ve been wondering about something. When Hemant puts up posts like this one, how many people here respond by doing something like writing to a lawmaker, school official, or something? I usually respond when the FFRF sends out an action alert, but other than that, I don’t do anything else.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    Death threats, vandalism, shunning, mocking behavior, outright discrimination in front of large groups, and elitist statements made belittling them or their beliefs. are my guess.!

  • roz77

    I absolutely cannot wait for the court case. The school 1) creates the forum, 2) provides the method of selection for the speaker, and 3) censors the speech to a point. If anyone in the Mississippi legislature bothered to do any sort of legal research, they would realize that all 3 of these elements weigh heavily in favor of this practice being declared unconstitutional. That will be a fun opinion to read.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    C) looks like “no blasphemy” to me.

    They’re going to find it hard to reconcile true religious liberty with a prohibition on blasphemy.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Oh, poor babies, having to tolerate the beliefs of others. This type of complaint is the reason I say that atheists *are incapable of being good without God*, for the slightest sacrifice on their part leads to such whiny diatribes, while they encourage *outright killing of others for the mere possibility that they might be born to less than perfect parents*.

  • Carmelita Spats

    Blasphemy is a blast-for- me so tolerate my blasphemy: Crucified-Christ’s-Legs-Spread-Wide-On-A-Cracker….You are an idiot. CHRISTIAN MISSISSIPPI rejected a PERSONHOOD initiative by an overwhelming majority last year! Turns out that even over-Christianized dumbfu)ks, raging Christoholics, in a state with one of the lowest literacy rates in all of Christendom, UNDERSTOOD that a Personhood initiative would make chemical contraception ILLEGAL…Mississippians want to fu)k but not the Catholic “scratch and sniff” way which is also known as the Billings/Creyton/Rhythm Method. Yes, Mississippians endorsed the, “outright killing of pretend people for the mere possibility that they might be born to less than perfect parents.” For once, Mississippi did not shame humanity and demonstrated more sexual literacy than you. Glory!

  • plutosdad

    Toleration is not the issue. Every time the school endorses one religion over another, it is discriminatory. Every person like you who thinks it’s fine to force your religion on others thinks your version of Christianity will be the only one not discriminated against.

    Would the parents feel the same if a student led the whole school in a Hail Mary? Or a Hindu or Muslim prayer?

  • http://www.facebook.com/brian.westley Brian Westley

    No Seeber, you say atheists are incapable of being good without god because your religion requires that you parrot it, even though it contradicts reality.

  • Tired of liberals

    I get so tired of the anti Christian liberal theme. No where in the bill does it state which religion. And if you idiots would actually do a little research you would see that the whole “separation of church and state” argument is null. It is not a law. Never was. It was a statement made in a letter by Jefferson saying the exact opposite of the way you use it. That the government should never make a law regarding religion. Get a clue. Get some education. And get over it. No one is saying you have to convert. We have to listen to your anti Christian talk all the time. So why can’t we pray where you may hear it as well. Shut up already.

  • Fox

    I can’t wait to start saying my prayers and sharing my thoughts about my lord Zeus with the rest of the class. I’m glad that this bill is in place so I can drown my peers in my own stupid beliefs to prove how stupid their beliefs are

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Gallagher/100002645325861 John Gallagher

    Typical move by the double digit IQ Ignorante (Ignor-ahn-tay). Can we start making the bricks for the wall that cuts off the old Confederate states now???

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Gallagher/100002645325861 John Gallagher

    Typical move by the double digit IQ Ignorante (Ignor-ahn-tay). Can we start making the bricks for the wall that cuts off the old Confederate states now???

  • http://www.facebook.com/jan.lee.370 Jan Lee

    I consistenly see posts written, when one person will attack (ignorant, stupid) the other person in a conversation when their beliefs do not line up. In this situation, who is really the ignorant stupid person?