New Law Allows Religious Proselytizing in Mississippi Public Schools

The video below, part of The Atheist Voice series, discusses how a new law will allow for religious proselytizing in Mississippi public schools:

You can read more about the law here.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the project — more videos will be posted soon — and we’d also appreciate your suggestions as to which questions we ought to tackle next!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • NJPicks

    That was very well done as usual. Makes perfect sense to me. So many of these stories are from the South. Seems there’s a “critical mass” of religious folks there (of the same religion} and that allows laws like this to pass. So it makes you wonder if Christians in the Northeast think differently or it’s just a numbers thing. I’d imagine it’s more the percentage of the population with religious views that’s the driving factor.

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      That’s a big factor, I think. I also find that most fundamentalists are completely incapable (whether by choice or defect) of imagining how they’d feel if the situation were reversed and their child’s teacher were promoting a different religion than their own. They just can’t or won’t allow themselves any empathy or compassion.

  • A3Kr0n

    As an encore, YouTube suggested I watch Wild Bill’s “Flo’s not funny”. What a contrast. An intelligent man followed up by an idiot.

  • http://fractalheretic.blogspot.com/ Fractal Heretic

    2:37 “Go pray to everybody.” I think that was a slip of the tongue, but very true. They’re supposed to be talking to God, but they’re actually talking to their audience. Why else would you ever need to pray into a microphone? That kind of prayer is almost indistinguishable from preaching.

  • Rain

    As an atheist skeptic, I’m all for it. But then on the other hand I’m all for abolishing science in schools and nailing the Ten Commandments up on a cross and handing that out as a required textbook. I’m probably not the best skeptical atheist ever. I should probably take some remedial atheist skeptic classes. Worst skeptical atheist ever.

  • dandaman

    Nice job. As an ex-biology teacher (finally grew tired of administrative abuse) who has taught in South Carolina and overseas in Latin America, I have to emphasize that I bet the science teachers (at least Bio) are appalled at this and will suffer much oppression of thought. To often the teachers are forgotten in this situation, who fear for their jobs as they teach and have students tell their parents fabrications or half out-of-context tid-bits, like I said it’s okay to kill embryos after discussion of Roe vs. Wade (i said the decision of the first trimester as the limit was based on the ability of the nervous system to feel pain), or believing in God is stupid (I said there was no scientific evidence in response to a student’s question), the list goes on. I grew so weary of it I left teaching.

  • Marmotjmarmot

    5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

  • Heathen Mike

    Of course, it’s the South. Never mind what Jesus ACTUALLY taught, according to the bible: matthew 6:5 — “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray in the Synagodues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you. They have received their reward in full.” (NIV)
    Evangelicals have tightly embraced the notion that secular culture, led by Satan, of course, is steadily strangling the moral and spiritual life from America, and that they are called by god to be “soldiers” for christ, …which means to many of them, purposeful public displays of their faith.
    I’m torn on the best approach to combatting this. In part, I want to run to the ACLU and say “Make them stop!” But that approach of challenging them plays into their myth of spiritual warfare. Sometimes we do have to make the point that these zealots’ tactics are unconstitutional. But maybe a better (though still difficult) approach sometimes is to encourage people with non-christian viewpoints to vigorously exercise the legal rights to espouse their beliefs in the very same public ways that the christian soldiers are doing. I know it takes some bravery to do this, but seems like the best way to make the point.

    • Billy Bob

      Christians reading the Bible? lol You think they do or something?

  • bananafaced

    Hemant, I don’t think this is about “prayer”. I think it is more about power. If you legalize proselytizing (mainly Christian) at school you in essence drown out all dissent. Where I see a legal challenge is WHEN a student from another faith or no faith “tries” to put forth their POV. Hopefully there will be a challenge in the courts. But I know that the student or teacher who tries this will be in physical and economic danger. I live in MS and I know these things don’t go down well in the “most religious state in the union”. I would have to live another hundred years to see a real separation of church and state.

  • Frank Romano

    I really enjoyed this post. When you mentioned what might happen if a muslim or any other religious person were proselytizing, or even an atheist talking about the non-existence of a god, it made me question; How can you find Reason where obviously none exists? Thanks for the good work you do.

  • Neil Carter

    You can bet some folks in MS are gunning to challenge this new law. Just wait ’till we get an SSA chapter started somewhere around here and we just might see some sparks fly :-)

  • Tobias2772

    Actually, Hemant makes the point at about 2:40 that the public prayer is not likely to convert anybody. This undermines his position. The legal argument is that school can’t sponsor prayers and the like becuase that would be etablishing one religion over the other. But if the prayer has no impact on the beliefs of the other students, then the school (government) is not helping to establish a religion. In fact, there seems to be no harm in promoting these prayers – at least until a muslim or an atheist tries to take advantage of the opportunity – then the damage might become physical.
    One more thing – schools have some rights to restrict freedom of speech if they can make a legitimate claim that such speech will interfere witht the stated purpose of education. It’s not hard to imagine these exercises of prayer doing just that.

    • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

      Re: “But if the prayer has no impact on the beliefs of the other students, then the school (government) is not helping to establish a religion.”

      No, it’s just forcing people to mouth prayers they may not believe in. I’m wondering how that’s good for anyone … the people being forced to mouth prayers, or the religion itself?

      In any event, I’m not sure the folks who back these proposals aren’t somehow convinced that forcing people to mouth prayers to their deity, won’t somehow, magically, get them to convert to the religion at some point. I think they believe there is “magic” in those prayers that will “make Christians out of people.”

      But even those believers who are rational enough to realize it won’t work this way, are still looking for something else, which is communal reinforcement of their religion. That a whole bunch of other people are mouthing prayers to their deity — even if insincerely — gives them a sense of security in their beliefs, that they can’t get any other way. I’m not sure that’s much better: They’re forcing other people to go through the motions of their religion in order to feel better about being part of it.

      • Tobias2772

        I was attempting to speak Constitutionally. “the government shall pass no law establishing a religion” – If these prayers don’t affect other students beliefs, then the christians can argue that there is no establishment of religion here.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Transcript:

    Three’s a new law that’s in effect in Mississippi. It was signed by an overwhelming majority in the house and the state senate and the governor signed it.

    And it basically allows for religious proselytization, in public schools in Mississippi.

    And you know to an extent it’s saying something that we’ve already know is legal, which is that you know if you’re a student and you want to hold an after school bible study that’s perfectly legal, and if you want to write within context of some assignment about God, well you shouldn’t be punished for that as long as it’s within the confines of the assignment.

    But what this law allows is it basically gives religious people- and by religious people it almost always means Christians- this loophole that allows them pray at graduation

    To hold up banners that have bible verses on them at football games.

    To say prayers during morning announcements when there’s a student speaking and everyone at the school has to listen over the intercom.

    And to me that’s just asking for abuse because how would people feel if there were a Muslim student who was doing any of those things.

    Or an atheist saying “You know, hey this morning, we’re having there might be a fire drill this afternoon. And also everyone there’s no God.”

    And it’s part of this like limited public forum.

    This space they’re caring out that says religious people shouldn’t be punished for their religion.

    Well they’re not punished for practicing their religion, but when you’re at a public school there ought to be some limits about how you talk about your faith.

    If you’re sitting in the lunch room, you and a friend want to talk about religion, Go for it!

    No one’s ever going to stop you.

    But when you have this captive audience like at a graduation or a football game or the announcements I don’t think that’s a time when anyone should be practicing their faith in front of everybody as part of a show.

    As part of this you know “I’m going to force you all to listen to my Christian prayers.”

    And I promise you, the moment a non-Christian student takes advantage of this law, there’s going to be chaos.

    And what I’m worried about is that it’s Mississippi, so there’s a very sizable, like there’s not a lot of people there that- who are not Christian.

    So basically this law is that green light for Christian students to pray in public space at school when everyone else has to listen to you.

    And I just think that’s opening the door for all sorts of abuses.

    We’re already seeing those abuses where that law isn’t in place.

    And this laws says that “Hey you know what, if you do it, no one’s going to punish you.”

    In essence just saying “Go ahead Christian students go pray to everybody, we’re all going to have to listen to you.”

    And I don’t even get what that’s supposed to accomplish.

    Like what is a student hears a Christian prayer- the Lord’s Prayer- over the loudspeaker, they’re magically going to convert?

    Like I don’t know what their intention is, but again when you’re representing the school at the graduation or a football game or an assembly or anything like that I think there needs to be some restrictions on what you can say and what you can’t say.

    No one would be fine with it if a student just started swearing up a storm, because we say “No”, there are some restrictions.

    When you represent the school you shouldn’t be able to do that.

    The same thing goes with prayer.

    I just don’t understand any logic behind this law other than it’s Christian politicians who want to serve their base and who want to use their majority to push religion onto everyone else.

    It’s just ridiculous.

    My name is Hemant Mehta.

    I write at friendlyatheist.com

    and hope to see your questions in the comments.