Mississippi bills in legislature could lead to prayer in schools

Published 12:02am Sunday, February 17, 2013

JACKSON (AP) — Supporters say bills to guarantee religious freedom in Mississippi public schools are meant to ensure students can talk about spiritual beliefs and aren’t deprived of their rights.

But some supporters also say the measures would legalize prayer before school audiences, and that makes people who advocate for separation of church and state uneasy.

Both the state House and the state Senate have passed versions of the Schoolchildren’s Religious Liberties Act. The chambers must agree on a single bill before anything would go to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant. The Senate version represents the first time the chamber has passed such a bill, improving chances that it will become law.

Rep. Mark Formby, R-Picayune, has introduced a bill every year since 2009. He said it’s meant in part to dispel confusion about whether students are allowed to discuss religious themes in school work or wear religious clothing to school. Such rights are guaranteed under federal law, but Formby said schools afraid of getting involved in disputes over religion are suppressing students from writing or talking about their faith in any context.

“I’m not so much worried about what’s allowed as what’s disallowed,” Formby said. “I keep having parents come to me and complain. This would give clarity to the law.”

The measures go farther. They declare that school events such as graduations and football games, as well as morning announcements, are “limited public forums.” The proposal sets out a model policy districts could adopt, specifying that certain groups of students would be allowed to speak on such occasions.

“It doesn’t have to restore school prayer,” Formby said. “It will allow children, on a voluntary basis, to pray or not to pray.”

But it’s clear that advocates for the measure, especially those outside the Legislature, believe it would clear the way for student-led prayer before groups.

“People ask me if this is a step toward getting prayer back in schools. I think this is THE step to get prayer back in schools,” said Paul Ott, who hosts religion-flavored radio and television programs about hunting, fishing and the outdoors.

Bear Atwood, interim director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, said this bill has the same flaw — forcing students to listen to someone else’s religious expression — that led judges to strike down a previous Mississippi law allowing student-led prayer.

“The courts have never said it’s OK to hold a captive audience,” Atwood said.

Advocates for the bill say that because the school wouldn’t dictate the message and would publish a disclaimer that it wasn’t sponsoring prayer, the practice would be legal. Atwood, though, questioned whether the bill would truly create a hands-off public forum, since the model policy calls for schools to limit speaking opportunities to certain students who win honors. It says schools also should prevent vulgarity and make sure remarks are appropriate to the occasion.

“It’s really, actually, quite regulated in terms of what the content can be,” Atwood said.

The head of the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents, Sam Bounds, said he allowed student-led prayer when he was superintendent in Brookhaven.

“I’m a good Southern Baptist,” he said.

But he’s worried a law could put schools in conflict with federal courts. “I don’t want us to get in a situation where we’re trying to pass state law that contradicts federal law,” Bounds said.

One way out to sidestep such a conflict would be for school boards to adopt some other policy than the model set out in the bills. That’s what happened in Texas, where the state school board association published a different model policy despite attacks from proponents of the law.

Both proponents and opponents of the proposed law say organized school prayer remains widespread in Mississippi, despite opponents’ efforts to curtail it. In October 2012, for example, the ACLU sent a letter to the Lincoln County school system demanding a halt to routine prayer at West Lincoln High School. Ott said that over many years of presenting public school programs, he’s heard countless prayers.

Rabbi Debra Kasoff, who leads the Hebrew Union Temple in Greenville, said she appreciates the faith of Mississippi residents. But she said that as the mother of public school student, she objects to organized school prayer.

“It’s not appropriate for there to be school-sanctioned or school-approved times where students stand up and lead the community in prayer,” Kasoff said.

Ott, though, said he believed schools have seen more bad behavior, harassment, bullying and even school shootings because of prayer’s exclusion.

“Let’s get God back in the schools some way,” Ott said. “We’ve been praying in schools for 200 years. Why should we stop?”

 

  • Anonymous

    I have to listen to people using the name of Jesus in vain and blasphemous ways all day long, in public and on the television. So why would it hurt or disturb anyone to to hear his name used in prayer instead.

  • Anonymous

    As long as it’s a prayer to Allah, and everyone has to stop and bow to the east, then I’m fine with it. As for religious clothing, then I insist the girls wear burkas. Yes it’s time we brought Allah back into our schools.

  • Anonymous

    We often disagree but not this time. I wonder if these people realize that Christianity is not the only religion. Doesn’t seem like it.

  • Anonymous

    I find praying public much like yammering on a cell phone in public. It forces others to be privy to what should be a private conversation. It is also akin to reading out loud. It is really tacky in my opinion. I don’t mean any offense but consider Babaloo’s point. What will these people say when a Muslim group demands the same under this law? By the time Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Wiccans, etc. all get their prayers done half the school day is over and non-believers have given up valuable education time so others could ritualize. It’s not right.

  • Anonymous

    If it’s a time issue that concerns you, prayers can be limited. Obviously some folks like to try and deliver sermons and teachings through their long winded prayers and that can be annoying. But, praying with others is rather basic to Christianity.

  • Anonymous

    M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I AGAIN TRYING TO OVER THROW SOMETHING THAT’S BEEN WORKED OUT YEARS AGO. HOW DUMB. “SEPERATION-OF-CHURCH-AND-STATE”, DO THOSE DUMB SUCKERS KNOW WHAT THAT MEAN ? NEVER ANYTHING NEW TO MOVE THIS POOR STATE FOWARD, JUST SAME-O-SAME-O. ALWAYS FIGHTING A LOOSING BATTLE. THAT’S JUST HOW THOSE RED NECKS LOVE IT.

  • Anonymous

    In Dubai and Abu Dhabi the Christmas decorations are up in the airports (and other places) by October. I wonder why the intolerance level for Christianity is so high in our own country.

  • Anonymous

    Evidently so is a complete disregard for the beliefs and rights of others. You keep making this about Christianity when it isn’t. Religion does not equal “Christianity”, not even in the American South. What you appear to want is not so much the ability to pray (you already have that) but the right to force others to listen to Christian prayers. I suspect this is seen as a subversive way to prosthelytize Protestant Christianity or as some display of religious unity. Either way, it has no place in our public schools.

    Even the bill is subversive. It is claimed that it is to protect religious liberties of school students. We already have laws that protect those starting with the First Amendment. What it really appears to be is a marginally dishonest method of getting religiosity, specifically Protestant Christianity, mainstreamed in Mississippi public schools. No thanks.

  • Anonymous

    A note to the Democrat staff. If Dave is allowed to use racial slurs without repercussion, I assume that applies to the rest of us as well.

  • Anonymous

    The next time you happen to be in Dubai please take the opportunity to distribute Christian literature or promote Christianity in any way. What happens next is prison, deportation or both. Do not be fooled by the state’s efforts to attract western tourists and their money.

  • Anonymous

    Prayer in all schools should be allowed . Why suppress our rights to freedom of speech. Backwards thinking if you think about it. Go figure.

  • Anonymous

    Any individual can pray in school at any time as long as it is not disruptive in nature. Nobody’s freedom of speech is being suppressed. Everyone has the right to freedom of speech. Nobody has the right to have their speech heard or is entitled to a public venue.

  • Anonymous

    It doesn’t work that way. It’s PC to ridicule Christians and white folk, it’s even encouraged.

  • Anonymous

    Christians pray together. It’s what we do. But the Roman Empire thought it was subversive too. :)

  • Anonymous

    Lord willing, I won’t be going back. :)

  • Anonymous

    Sad but true.

  • Anonymous

    And there is absolutely nothing wrong with praying together. By all means, at break get together and form a prayer circle and pray to your heart’s content. If someone tries to stop you, I’ll be on your side and protest vehemently. That said, the classroom is not a prayer meeting nor the school a church. You organize religious undertakings on your own time, using your own resources, not the taxpayers’.

  • Anonymous

    You really should read the specifics of the listed incidents from the link you posted. It does your argument no service. Most of it is black on black violence and people breaking into, robbing or attacking churches. If you think religious “arrogance” led to the crimes from your link, you need some serious help. Most of it was crime perpetrated on church-goers by someone else or minorities fighting.

  • Sonny Daniels

    Please tell me where Separation of Church and State can be found in the U.S. Constitution? Oh that is right, it is not in there. The 1st Amendment guarantees Freedom of Religion…not Freedom From Religion. Also, I find it ironic that you call a certain group of people dumb, and you can’t even master basic grammar and English skills.

  • Anonymous

    That is correct. There is no “separation of church and state” in the Constitution. It arose in one of Jefferson’s letters to a minister concerned about the government meddling in church affairs. Jefferson assured him that “a wall of separation” existed that forbade such government meddling. If there is no “separation of church and state” then churches will not be tax exempt and can legally be regulated by government. Careful what you wish for. You might get it.

  • Anonymous

    OldGrandDad, are you aware that the most-used Mulim expression is, “Lord willing,”?

  • http://www.facebook.com/jack.russel.1806 Jack Russel

    I beg to differ. We need to hurry and pass this law so we can have the children pray to our Lord Satan for wealth,pleasure and the enslavement and agonizing death of our enemies. If the State is teaching your children religion. The State chooses whom your children worship.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jack.russel.1806 Jack Russel

    So lets vote to make Satanism the State Religion in Mississippi. Then we can pray to him in our public schools.When will you people realize that this sword cuts any way you swing it? Fools.

  • Sonny Daniels

    Who are you calling a fool? Regardless of your opinion, I have factually stated what the Constitution says regarding religion…it doesn’t matter what your personal opinions are. But it is funny that you say Mississippi should make Satanism the state religion. They can actually make any religion the state religion if they so choose. Here is a little fact for you: The Bill of Rights were written to be safeguards to protect the states from the Federal Government–Now, incorporationists claim that the 14th Amendment legally makes the the Bill of Rights apply to all the states–this is not true. The 14th Amendment was never legally ratified. If you don’t believe me…look it up. The majority of laws the federal government force feeds the states are illegal–they have no legal or consitutional basis. With that said, this “incorporation” is bogus. Mississippi, just as any sovereign state, can legally (if their state constitutions and laws allow it) make any religion the state religion if they so choose…the myth of the 14th amendment is a lie that has been told and indoctrinated into minds of all the citizens since it was illegally promulgated in 1868. This lie was further strengthened in 1954 when the Supreme Court errouneously cited the 14th Amendment and incorporation in its ruling over desegregation of public schools. How many people out there actually know this true, authentic history??? Judging from the responses on this website, I would say very, very few. Heck, the majority of people in this country think that Abraham Lincoln was a wonderful president (it has been hammered into our minds since birth)–from a constitutional standpoint, he was the most horrible president we have ever had. He should have been impeached over a litany of abuses and illegal actions he committed. Ironically, Obama is doing the best he can to eclipse Lincoln as being the undisputed, most unconsitutional president in American History. America–wake up and stop believing the revisionists history they are teaching in schools today!!!! Stop being Sheeple…bah bah

  • http://www.facebook.com/jack.russel.1806 Jack Russel

    The Bill of Rights was written to protect the Rights of the People from the State. Not the Rights of the States from the Federal Government. The First Amendment. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The Amentment does not guarantee” Freedom of Religion…not Freedom From Religion.” It forbids the Government from making any law ” respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This means the Govermnment has no role in the personal matter of religion including providing Public School property and/or teachers to inculcate your favorite religion in your neighbor’s children backed up by the armed force of the State and compulsory school attendance. I say again the sword cuts any way you swing it. If the predominant religion in Natchez ,Ms. was Satanism or Islam you would be howling like a banshee that The Constitution forbids those people from practicing their religion on your children.And you would be right.

  • Anonymous

    Go to church if you want to pray. Christians have no right to make people hear their prayers. If people wanted to hear prayers they would go to church. School is not a church. It is for learning. If you want to learn about Christianity, go to church and leave everyone else alone. Thank you.

  • http://www.natchezdemocrat.com khakirat

    You are way out of line and sound like a racist and I bet you would say former Pres. Bush was a great president that started two wars an lying about weapons of destruction in Iraq and there was none, caused a great Depression of the economy thanks to Pres. Obama and the Democratic party all thru history to clean up the mess the republicans made!! Just cause people don’t agree with you don’t force the issues of untruth!!

  • Sonny Daniels

    You are partially correct–the BOR was written to protect each, individual sovereign state and her citizens against the State–state being capitalized because in this case, I am referring to the federal government. You can quote all the Amendments you want–the fact remains the BOR was drafted in order to protect the individual sovereign states and her citizens against a tyranical federal government. Patrick Henry was one of the most influential people arguing in favor of a BOR to protect the states. As a matter of fact, he wasn’t even satisfied with the Bill of Rights as they were adopted. Regardless of my personal beliefs and my disdain for satanism and Islam, it still does not negate the facts. A state can adopt a state religion if they choose to do so (of course, this is assuming their state constitution doesn’t prohibit it, etc)–my point being is that the Federal Government can’t prevent them from doing so. Now, there is a misconception that they can…and I went through that fallacy in detail in my last post…but in reality, they can’t. The 14th Amendment was never legally ratified, therefore incorporation has no legal basis. This is a state issue–not a federal one.

  • http://www.natchezdemocrat.com khakirat

    God Almighty was the foundation of the forming of the USA thats on our coins saying In God We Trust! Our forefathers had to be christians to be part of governments or congress! Thomas Jefferson may have wrote the Constitution but I feel in my heart that God put the words and the meat into it but thats just my opinion!! I know Jesus Christ is my savior and my salvation and I’m 65 years old and when I went to school and played sports there was always prayers before and after as that of mourning prayer every day on the intercom !! Thats whats wrong today is that the schools are kicking Jesus out of the class rooms and during my school days we didn’t have all the drugs,killing, student without parents backing, sex with teachers, bad public schools of bad academics, and on an on!! Give me that old time religion for if was good enough for you then its good enough for me-AMEN!! Praise God Almighty!!

  • Anonymous

    I worked around them for a number of years and never heard it. Perhaps I was around Muslim agnostics? But Christians are told to say “if the Lord wills.” I only shortened it down. :)

  • Sonny Daniels

    Red Herring!!!! So now telling the accurate history of something makes one a racist? That is amazing. Just like criticizing Osama makes on a racist. It is a FACT that Lincoln was the most unconstitutional president in history. It is a FACT that the 1954 Supreme Court case is where they ruled on the 14th Amendment and Incorporation applying to the states–that is historical record. I cited a Supreme Court case because it is pertinent to the debate. It just so happens that it deals with segregation. In no way did I say that I supported segregation–I used that case as a point to prove that the federal government had no authority to meddle in state affairs–in no way was it an endorsement in favor of either side of the argument. That is a Red Herring…a very asinine attempt to shift the focus from the truth. No, I don’t think Bush was that great of a president. I will let you in on something else–I despise the modern day republican party. They are way too liberal for me. There are only a couple that are worthy of the office they hold.

  • Sonny Daniels

    I actually give you a thumbs up here–good post. I agre with you.

  • http://www.natchezdemocrat.com khakirat

    Thank you !!

    In a message dated 2/18/2013 5:35:26 P.M. Central Standard Time, notifications@disqus.net writes:

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    Sonny Daniels wrote, in response to khakirat:
    I actually give you a thumbs up here–good post. I agre with you.

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  • Anonymous

    Good post. Another example of how our Constitution has been all but nullified.

  • Anonymous

    To my knowledge no Republican has ever reduced the size of government and I don’t expect them to start in the future. They run on it for votes but grow government and spend like crazy. The Democrats have gone pretty much full commie while the Republicans dance with populist statism.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005300100392 Rachel Smith

    very well said!!!!! this is the best thing i have read so far!!!!!