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?

  • Emily Evans

    Thank you for sharing your opinion. I agree with you hold heartily and everything you said is the TRUTH. I was starting to get a little discouraged with the left wing anti Christians on here.

    Also, commenting on the person above, on taking one line of scripture out of context of the entire meaning behind Jesus’s parable in Matthew Chapter 6 is a disgrace and I find the very statement referencing the verse OFFENSIVE. It also reinforces that the person referenced above has not read the Bible or has and has distorted it in such a way in which it was never meant to be interpreted.

    As Christian proud to still have the right reinforced by our elected officials that we still hold fast to our faith and stand firm!!!!!

    Stand firm in your beliefs, always!

  • Emily Evans

    Might I suggest you worrying about your own state. It seems to me your politicians and President are doing quite a dismal job thus far of running our once Great Nation with a deceitful and thug-like style of government which is still obviously thriving in the state of Illinois.

    If you are a friendly atheist why do you care so much about what Christians do? I believe that if you are, in fact, a friendly atheist, you would rest assured on your belief that “there is no god” and leave every one else alone, no matter our religion.

    Lastly, I pray that My Lord, Jesus Christ, will soften your heart to receive his Truth, Way and Life because that is everlasting and nothing of this world matters.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    If you are for euthanasia and abortion, you’re not Good.

  • TCC

    If you think that friendliness is contingent on leaving others alone, you go first.

  • TCC

    The current jurisprudence set forth by the Supreme Court, who are the final arbiters of legal interpretation under our Constitution, disagrees with you.

  • Matt Davis

    Atheists and humanists do good because it’s the right thing to do. They don’t do bad because being nice to people keeps everyone happy, including self, and promotes greater unity, prosperity and happiness in the world.

    Religious people do good to get heaven tickets. They don’t do bad because they fear divine retribution and don’t want to go to hell.

    I know which one has the moral high ground. Anyone who says atheists have no morals and would kill and rape without fear of god, is that the only thing STOPPING you? In that case, I’d hope you never stop believing!

    I’m not talking about abortion. That’s not a part of this discussion; it’s a side issue. It has its place to be discussed but I choose not to in this post. Oh, and as for euthanasia, I’d advocate that over endless suffering. If the patient is in terrible pain and actively wants to die with no coercion, who are you to deny him that right? As long as it’s his choice entirely.

    Actually, I will add one thing about abortion in the case of a non-viable ectopic pregnancy. In a Catholic hospital, they won’t give you the drug to induce miscarriage and they won’t extract the embryo through an incision. No, they’ll remove the entire Fallopian tube, causing partial loss of fertility and great pain and discomfort. All to uphold their precious dogma, and it doesn’t save anyone’s life. In fact, the woman’s life is actively endangered. With the Catholic Church’s proclivity for indoctrination and wanting as many children in the faith as possible (clearly established due to their pointless opposition to things like condoms; a side-effect of which is that misinformation is rampant in Africa and AIDS risk is higher), you’d think they wouldn’t want to restrict a woman’s chance of having more children, so this is an odd stance to take.

  • Matt Davis

    Don’t you think atheists wouldn’t be as vocal if Christians weren’t so vocal? They insist on forcing Christianity down our throats in everything that they do, and enshrine it into law too, such as health care and marriage restrictions that are only imposed due to the Christianity of the people making the laws. Then they have the gall to pretend they’re persecuted. This really ENFLAMES me, and I’ve had enough. The minute they all stop, I stop too.

  • Matt Davis

    You lot started it. See my other reply above.

  • Matt Davis

    Contact ACLU, FFRF, Americans United, People for the American Way etc. and make sure an atheist gets to make a prayer similar to Juan Mendez’s one where he quoted Carl Sagan. Just for good measure, get a Muslim student to pray too!

    Is there someone in the area anyone knows so we can make sure this happens ASAP? I’d love this to humiliate them.

    This also annoys me: “Some Mississippi districts, including DeSoto County, the state’s largest, had been allowing pregame prayer even though they had policies banning it. Many condemned the ruling, and in places, a moment of silence was filled with audience-led prayer organized in advance.” This was last year: http://littlegreenfootballs.com/page/270982_Mississippi_House_passes_schoo – I wonder if the fact it’s pre-planned makes it a violation? Probably not, as it’s audience-initiated, but even so, it’s very unsavoury.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Doing good and being good are not equal.

    Even Mussolini made the trains run on time.

  • Matt Davis

    Oh, you want to go there, do you? Many atheists and humanists helped out in Oklahoma after the tragedy. So many, in fact, that Hemant here compiled a nice list, in reply to someone just like you, who asserted that it’s “funny how secular humanists aren’t out giving away hot meals”. Let’s see: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/06/23/time-cover-story-wrongly-attacks-atheists-for-not-helping-out-victims-of-oklahoma-tornadoes/

    Oh, and don’t confuse atheism and humanism with communism, fascism and totalitarian dictator-worship. It’s not the same.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Oh, but you see since the atheists don’t have an objective moral founding, they have no idea whether what they’re doing is good or bad, since they can’t have an absolute standard of good or bad.

    True Christians on the other hand (aka Catholics since that’s the church that Jesus started) are only capable of doing good because everything they do is based on the moral standard set forth by God. 2nd edition.


  • TheodoreSeeber

    Once again That’s *DOING GOOD* not *BEING GOOD*.

  • Matt Davis

    When I was at school, I did my homework on time. There, I was good as well as doing good. Happy now?

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Not really. See, the problem is this claim that one can *be good* while working *for objective evil*. One can do a few good things along the way, but like I said before- even Mussolini made the trains run on time, and Hitler did great things for lower-class Aryans who were paid handsomely to have large families.

  • Matt Davis

    I think I know what you’re saying, but I can categorically state that I’ve never worked for objective evil, ever. I’ve never supported any of those dubious causes, you know, like abortion, and I just try to make the world a better place. I also don’t go out of my way to ridicule believers and religions. I do, however, get very annoyed when I see people try to assert Christian privilege, or worse, Christian Supremacy. It makes me retaliate.

    I’m sure you know Christian Supremacy. It’s the view that only Christianity is the truth and the supremacist believes it’s not just his right, but his DUTY to convert everyone by force, because it’s for their own good – it’s the Absolute Truth. In the process, he denigrates and ridicules all other belief systems. He knows this as an absolute fact. The fact he has no proof is irrelevant; he still knows this. I can give you an example of such an individual: http://www.occidentaldissent.com/2013/07/01/florida-league-protests-american-atheists-monument/ Mosin Nagant in the comments. Every reference to Christianity is to its absolute truthfulness and his duty to ensure it’s practised everywhere he goes. By the way, that’s a White Supremacist / Nationalist site too, so they go together in some cases.

    I also have just as much contempt for Islam, and its desire to enforce Sharia Law on people in places like London. Their religion teaches that their faith must be protected at all costs; if a few of their children are killed, the reaction is nothing in comparison to if a Koran is burnt. They really do riot, and blasphemy laws are disgusting, but without them there’d be more vigilantism.

    It’s a no-win situation while they’re that volatile, and the only way to win is to deprogram them, it seems; implant doubts carefully without insulting them, and hope enough of them take hold. The fact that freedom of religion is not respected, and simple questioning can get people beaten and jailed, really doesn’t help. Even family and friends can turn on each other if they think someone’s become an apostate.

  • Matt Davis

    Here, a quote from that Christian Supremacist I was talking about:

    It IS about religion, Hunter, and Christianity is NOT a culture — although true, Biblical churches are local and ethnic, NOT national-political or global or “universal”. Christianity is the basis of a healthy culture. There is no other solid foundation, all other ground is shifting sand.

    “It would never occur to me to go to a place like Vermont and attempt to aggressively impose my own culture there. I don’t see my own culture as the measuring stick for the entire world.”

    That sounds very multiculturalist. Christianity really IS the measuring stick for the entire world. Going to Vermont to shine the light of the Gospel in the darkness would not be wrong at all.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    What you fail to realize is I’m such an individual, and I don’t want your “deprogramming” brainwashing.

  • Matt Davis

    I’m not talking about deprogramming you. I’m advocating deprogramming extremists. I have no problem with religious moderates, as long as they are not the enablers of zealots and as long as they are not forcing it down my throat. This is what I’ve been trying to say all along. Sowing seeds of doubt in potential militants will mean they’re less likely to become suicide bombers.

    Have you heard of Quilliam, in London? There are three ex-al-Qaeda members who have spent several years fighting for the Taliban and other Islamist regimes, but became apostates and are now actively trying to prevent extremism by keeping ties to the Islamic community. The people attempting to deradicalise are ex-Muslims themselves, so they know how to relate.

    The form of deprogramming I’m talking about isn’t brainwashing. It’s simply an antidote to the indoctrination these people have received, in some cases from a very early age, and it’s not brainwashing at all – just implanting doubt. Making them think about the tenets, and how, really, they aren’t actually likely to be true, thinking about it. Obviously, some people become Muslim later in life, and there’s not a lot you can do about that, but I think religion should be a reasoned choice, so it shouldn’t be forced on children too young to understand it. Keep things neutral, and give them a fair choice once they’re old enough to think critically and decide for themselves.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    I’m not talking about deprogramming you. I’m advocating deprogramming extremists.


  • Matt Davis

    I would say that’s slightly out of context… I was talking about violent, volatile Islam.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Granted- Ted doesn’t advocate violence. But I do think you’re arguing with someone who thinks the definition of ‘good’ is that you have ‘God’. And specifically his version of God.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Which is why I no longer use the word Christian, but rather Catholic. But still, yes, you are talking about reprogramming all of us evil religionists who want to take away your fun. Liberalism always ends up in tyranny.

    I’m to the point that I’m willing to say, segregation is the answer. Multiculturalism has failed. Aggressive evangelization has failed. Tribalism, a return to tribalism, is the only thing that still makes sense.

  • Matt Davis

    Hmm… I suppose it’s one way of doing it, but I don’t understand why people can’t just stop forcing religion on those who don’t want it. Every week it seems some church/state violation is reported, and it never stops.

    By the way, the deprogramming of Islamists was something I read about on another website. I can’t find it again; my web history’s broken at the moment, but it wasn’t my idea originally. I should have made that clearer, sorry. The guy who wrote the essay used to be Muslim, and he used to think like they did until he realised his religion simply didn’t make any sense. He knows from inside knowledge that violence won’t stop them; there are too many and more are being produced all the time. He says the only way is to make them doubt their faith.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    “I suppose it’s one way of doing it, but I don’t understand why people can’t just stop forcing religion on those who don’t want it.”

    Why can’t you stop from trying to deprogram people who don’t want to be deprogrammed? It amounts to exactly the same thing.

    My theory is that we are indeed genetically hardwired to try to convince people- and religion is a useful tool towards that end.

    The real problem is human economics and culture just doesn’t scale well beyond two levels of redirection.