Main | Tuesday, February 19, 2013

School Prayer May Return To Mississippi

Since the courts always take a dim view of public schools officially sanctioning prayers and other religious activities, Christianists around the nation have been working to crowbar their way in via student-led prayers. And it looks like they've succeeded in Mississippi, the state that only officially outlawed slavery last week.
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.
Mississippi Rep. Mark Formby has introduced the bill four years in a row.
"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.

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