Gov. Phil Bryant of Mississippi signed Senate Bill 2633, "Mississippi Student Religious Liberties Act of 2013," last week.
The bill legalizes student-led prayer in the state's public schools and would allow student-led prayer over school intercoms or at graduations and sporting events.
TO PROVIDE FOR VOLUNTARY STUDENT EXPRESSION OF RELIGIOUS VIEWPOINTS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS; TO PROVIDE THAT PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICTS SHALL ALLOW RELIGIOUS EXPRESSION IN CLASS ASSIGNMENTS; TO PROVIDE THAT PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICTS SHALL PROVIDE STUDENTS WITH THE FREEDOM TO ORGANIZE RELIGIOUS GROUPS AND ACTIVITIES; TO PROVIDE THAT PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICTS SHALL PROVIDE A LIMITED PUBLIC FORUM FOR STUDENT SPEAKERS AT NONGRADUATION AND GRADUATION EVENTS; TO PROVIDE A MODEL POLICY FOR VOLUNTARY RELIGIOUS EXPRESSION IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES
Representative Mark Formby explained,
"It doesn’t have to restore school prayer. It will allow children, on a voluntary basis, to pray or not to pray.”
The new law includes that schools must show a disclaimer that student speech "does not reflect the endorsement, sponsorship, position, or expression of the district."
This is a welcome turn for Christian students throughout many states who have learned to accept the routine burden toward religious expression of being ridiculed, scorned, and generally disparaged by any peers or authority figures. This bill would encourage students to freely talk about their faith in the classroom, to organize school Bible clubs, to pray at football games, graduation ceremonies, and during morning announcements
The ACLU's interim director, Bear Atwood, said she thinks the law "has serious constitutional issues" and that the ACLU will wait to see if there's proselytizing in public schools before deciding whether to file a lawsuit.
She continued that it's already "well-established" that students have First Amendment rights.
“There’s plenty of guidance for schools. This bill is about trying to end-run the Constitution so there can be prayer over the loudspeaker during school day and school assemblies and sporting events and graduations … Students have the right to engage in voluntary prayer as long as it’s not disruptive to the school environment, which is the same as all of their First Amendment rights.”
"At the end of the day, do I think there will be a legal challenge? Yes, which is unfortunate because it is not the governor or the Legislature that will get sued but the individual school district and that's not a very good way for them (to) spend their limited education dollars -- especially given that this is a pretty well-settled area of law." Source
So sez the ACLU.
The Rev. David D. Tipton, Jr., superintendent for the Mississippi District of the United Pentecostal Church, does not agree that our freedom of religion rights are well understood. He believes there are barriers to religious expression in public schools.
"We have listened to the argument of the separation of church and state too long, and those barriers, I believe, is a facade with a certain agenda that has actually I think brought our nation to the peril that it is in. So, yes, there are barriers there that a person or a child is afraid to speak anything related to God or Jesus because of lawsuits and things like that. So I think this piece of legislation will be a positive thing for the state of Mississippi." Source
Gov. Bryant also responded,
"We believe that we’re on firm ground here with our opportunity for religious expression in a limited forum within public schools. That does not mean that they won’t file a lawsuit, and we’ll see how that comes out for us."
State Sen. Chris McDaniel is confident the bill will stand up to any lawsuit as he stated,
“Due to a misinterpretation of Establishment Clause principles, religious expression has been improperly suppressed by some teachers and administrators.
SB 2633 provides much needed guidance on this sensitive issue by detailing what is allowed under the Constitution.
Government should not discriminate against or disfavor religious expression. Students do not discard their liberties at the schoolhouse door."
The First Amendment is consistent with SB 2633 in that it protects the right of freedom of expression from unnecessary government interference, even if that expression happens to be religious.”
“What this does is make clear that the expressive conduct [student prayer] is not that of the state.
If the conduct is not that of the state, then the Supreme Court has said that speech is protected speech, even if it's religious.
So, the ACLU, if they claim it's unconstitutional, they're dead wrong and we look forward to our day in court, if that's the case.” Source
Steve Crampton, General Counsel of Liberty Counsel, commented on the new bill,
“The Act is within the bounds of the First Amendment. On the one hand, it clarifies and explains the freedom of students to exercise their free speech, free press, and free assembly rights. On the other hand, it protects schools from baseless charges of violating the Establishment Clause and clarifies when a limited public forum for the exercise of private speech exists."
“The Student Religious Liberties Act helps school officials and students by explaining where the boundaries are in an otherwise confusing area of the law.”
Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, is quoted as saying,
“The Mississippi legislature and governor are heroes. Courageously, they are standing against religious intolerance and championing students’ rights to freely express their faith."
Bill legalizing school prayer sent to governor’s desk "Proponents, including radio host Paul Ott, say they think returning prayer to public schools would help reduce discipline problems and bullying."