In Mississippi, a New Law Will Allow Religious Proselytizing in Public Schools

Today, the “Mississippi Student Religious Liberties Act of 2013” goes into effect.

The law makes student-led, administration-supported proselytizing perfectly legal in the state’s public schools. The state’s House passed it on a 109-6 vote, while the Senate supported it 50-1 (the lone “Nay” vote was cast by the aptly-named Democrat Deborah Jeanne Dawkins). Republican Governor Phil Bryant signed it into law in March:

Gov. Phil Bryant signs the Mississippi Student Religious Liberties Act of 2013 into law (via governorbryant.com)

What does the law say? While much of it just reinforces laws that are already in place (e.g. Students can pray without punishment, Students can form after-school religious clubs), it also allows for Christians to push their faith onto other students in ways we’ve often fought against:

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

In English, that means students can now pray at football games, pep rallies, graduations, and over the loudspeaker during morning announcements. The school has to issue a disclaimer that they’re not endorsing those views, but after that, it’s fair game for the Christian majority to monopolize the airwaves. (The disclaimer may allow the schools to work around the Supreme Court decision in Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe that put a stop to things like student-led prayers at football games.)

I know this is Mississippi, but we need brave non-Christian students to take advantage of these laws. Let the state legislature and all those school administrators deal with the pushback they’ll inevitably get when Muslim students say a prayer during graduation ceremonies and atheists remind their classmates at the beginning of the day that God doesn’t exist.

If politicians think this is a way to legally push Christian prayers in public schools, let’s see what happens when non-Christians push for those same rights.

(Better yet, let’s see some intelligent Christian students speak out against this new law.)

If we don’t have students who challenge this awful, unnecessary law, you can bet Christians are going to find a way to turn the public schools into extensions of their churches.

***Update***: I should have mentioned that the Freedom From Religion Foundation often gives out scholarships for students who fight for church/state separation. Just something to think about…

(Thanks to Brian for the link)

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.


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