Mississippi always ranks poorly among American states: close to the poorest in education, at the top in religiosity, and home of America’s most obese people. It’s also conservative and largely Republican. The combination of religiosity and conservatism has led to one of the stupidest things I’ve seen states do to circumvent the Constitutional First Amendment barring public endorsement of religion. No, it’s not cheerleaders holding up signs with Bible verses on them—it’s an official bill to allow prayer in the public schools. The New York Times reports:
Gov. Phil Bryant of Mississippi has long wanted children to pray at public schools. This week, with his grandmother’s worn Bible on his desk, he signed a bill that gets him closer to that goal.
The new law requires public schools to develop policies that will allow students to pray over school intercoms, at assemblies and at sporting events.
While not allowing school-sanctioned prayer, the law permits students to offer public prayers with a disclaimer by the school administration. “You might put on the program that this is not a state-sanctioned prayer if a prayer does break out at a football game or graduation,” Mr. Bryant said.
Although the state is not in the business of establishing religion, he said, “we are about making sure that we protect the religious freedoms of all students and adults whenever we can.”
. . . Under the law, Mississippi school districts would have to follow guidelines allowing a “limited public forum” at school events for students to express religious beliefs. For example, the districts must include a disclaimer that says the students’ prayers do not reflect an endorsement or sponsorship by the district.
But that still exposes children who might not share the religious views of the students expressing themselves, said Bear Atwood, legal director of the Mississippi A.C.L.U.
“People never think, what if it’s a different religious prayer than my child’s faith?” she said.
That’s just one lie after another, and everyone knows it. This is a state-sponsored program to bring prayer into schools. Individuals are already allowed to pray in schools on their own, but there cannot be prayers over the intercoms or assemblies, or mass prayers at sporting events. Those violate the Constitution. Even a bill requiring schools to develop policies allowing prayer is, to my mind, unconstitutional. If students can pray on their own, why try to make this official policy?
As the Times reports, there has been a spate of these bill lately, all meant to circumvent a 2000 Supreme Court ruling that Texas students could not utter prayers over the public-address system during high school football games. What an affront! So here’s the response:
Lawmakers in South Carolina this year introduced legislation that would allow for prayer during a mandatory minute of silence at the start of the school day, provided that students who do not want to hear the prayer can leave the classroom.
Last year, Florida approved a bill to allow students to read inspirational messages at assemblies and sporting events, which prompted groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and Mr. Conn’s organization to send letters to every school district in the state threatening legal action if the law was put into practice.
In Missouri, voters in 2012 approved a constitutional amendment that gives residents the right to “pray and acknowledge God voluntarily in their schools,” and in Virginia this year, State Senator Bill Stanley has introduced a similar amendment.
CONSTITUTIONAL so long as the prayers are private and not foisted on other students.
For those who claim that “moderate” religion is fine, realize that most of the people behind these bills are not fundamentalists, but just devout people. Yet they can’t resist foisting their beliefs on others. If you feel you have the absolute truth, and those who ignore it are damned, then of course you’ll want to trumpet those truths over loudspeakers and public address systems.
And you’ll also make up phony excuses why you have to do it:
In the days after the December school shooting in Newtown, Conn., former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, who is a minister, advocated school prayer.
“We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools,” he said in a television interview. “Should we be surprised that schools would become places of carnage?”