Mississippi House passes school prayer bill: ‘We all need to pray’
JACKSON — State lawmakers hope if they create a ‘limited public forum’ for public school students, they will make it legally acceptable for prayer before fellow students and other audiences.
A bill proposing giving students a chance to speak every school day as well as before every athletic competition, graduation or school event was approved Friday by the House Education Committee.
‘We all need to pray,’ said Rep. Kevin McGee, R-Brandon. ‘Hopefully, if this bill passes, we will be able to do that in many different places.’
A few committee members were opposed though, fearing the measure is an invitation to disputes and lawsuits.
‘I just think you’re opening up a Pandora’s box,’ Rep. Nick Bain, D-Corinth, said.
After the meeting, Sam Bounds, executive director of the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents, said his association was also concerned the proposal could force school districts to permit offensive viewpoints.
The bill is styled as an anti-discrimination measure, called the ‘Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act’ or the ‘Schoolchildren’s Religious Liberties Act.’ Besides trying to clear the way for students to pray legally, it bans teachers from penalizing or rewarding students for expressing religious views in schoolwork. It also requires that students be allowed to organize prayer groups and religious clubs and that outside religious groups be allowed to use school facilities in the same way as nonreligious groups.
Last fall, a number of Mississippi school districts stopped allowing prayers before football games after they received a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based group of atheists and agnostics. That letter noted the U.S. Supreme Court had outlawed student-led prayer before football games in a 2000 case that originated in Texas.
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.
More broadly, school prayer in the state has been tied in legal knots since 1996, when a judge ruled Pontotoc County schools couldn’t allow students to pray over the intercom each morning or have Bible-study classes. The judge ruled schools can’t assemble ‘captive audiences’ for prayer.
The House measure is authored by Rep. Mark Formby, R-Picayune, who introduced the same measure in 2011, 2010 and 2009, along with sponsors who pushed similar measures in the Senate in those years. Friday was the first time such a bill has been passed by a Mississippi committee.
The measure appears modeled on a Texas law that was passed in 2007. A similar bill was vetoed in Oklahoma, and variations have been introduced in other states.
The idea is prayer by student speakers, which the district disclaims control over, will be OK. That legal theory springs from the 2000 Supreme Court case, which found student-led prayer at football games was implicitly understood to be sanctioned by the district.
Mississippi already has a state law that says students can give ‘nonsectarian’ or ‘nonproselytizing’ prayers at mandatory and voluntary events including student assemblies, football games and graduations. That law also says the state is not sanctioning such prayers
One of the comments on that site regarding the bill pretty much sums up how I feel about it:
The bill is styled as an anti-discrimination measure, called the ‘Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act’ or the ‘Schoolchildren’s Religious Liberties Act.’
Right, lets see what happens the first time a Muslim student wants to read from the Koran before a MS football game.
I’m a Christian and I hate stuff like this. NO ONE has any right to shove their religion down someone else’s throat. PERIOD.
Oh and there’s also the fact this bill is blatantly unconstitutional, but hey, who gives a crap about that?