March 8, 2013
More Student Prayer Coming to Mississippi Public Schools
Once signed by governor, new law will ensure students "can talk about spiritual beliefs and not be deprived of their rights."
The Mississippi state legislature has overwhelmingly approved a new bill that aims to guarantee religious liberty for students, allowing them freely to express their religious beliefs in homework assignments, in classroom settings, and at school events like football games.
The Associated Press reports that Senate Bill 2633 is an attempt to prevent wrongful restriction of religious expression in schools, where many "teachers and school administrators are confused about what religious expression is legal." The bill suggests creating particular events—"limited public forums"—at which students "could pray, or not, and the school would state it's not responsible for student actions."
Supporters say the bill will not force students to pray but will give them the option to do so voluntarily. However, the notion of 'voluntary' prayer has critics—including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)—riled up.
The ACLU got involved last October, when it filed a complaint against a local high school, demanding that the school stop "unlawful religious practices." Now, Mississippi's ACLU legal director Bear Atwood says the new bill still could force students to be captive audiences during someone else's religious expression and could lead to procedural problems, such as an issue with "school administrators selecting which students lead prayer in announcements or before a basketball game."
CT has previously weighed in on the topic of religion in public schools. Most recently, CT looked at problems with a Texas law requiring training for public-school Bible teachers and at a lawsuit against a California school district that is teaching yoga to students.