Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant (R) has signed a bill that forces schools to give students an open forum to push their religious beliefs on others.
The Sun Herald reports that the bill forces all Mississippi schools to “adopt a policy to allow a ‘limited public forum’ at school events such as football games or morning announcements, to let students express religious beliefs. The policy must include a disclaimer that such student speech “does not reflect the endorsement, sponsorship, position or expression of the district,” and allows students “to express religious beliefs in their class assignments and are free to organize religious groups on campus.”
Simply put, the law dictates that school administrators interrupt the business of educating our kids to allow students to openly preach religious beliefs regardless of what other students may or may not believe. Students could also write a science paper that is supposed to be about evolution on creationism instead without consequences. Students could refute other science facts as well such as how female anatomy works or climate change.
Bear Atwood, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Sun Herald that the law raises serious constitutional issues. “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,” Atwood stated.
Reverend David Tipton Jr, however, supports the bill and sees it as an effort to end the separation of church and state that has been a cornerstone in the foundation of America since the beginning. The superintendent of the Mississippi District of the United Pentacostal Church told the Sun Herald,
“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.”
Of course, students already have the right to pray in school as long as it is not disruptive. Students also can pray in groups in empty classrooms or around flag poles. Students can even wear religious emblems and clothing as long as it is not a distraction in class. So there is no real reason for this bill to exist unless you want to force your beliefs on others.
But SB 2633 opens up the door for students to encroach upon the beliefs of other students in a public way that would become a distraction. Schools are established to educate, not to convert, preach, or worship. That’s what churches are for. However, under the bill, students will be able to bombard the school population with religious beliefs that could range from ‘Jesus loves you’ to ‘Being gay goes against God.’ In other words, nothing prevents a student from expressing anti-gay or anti-abortion religious beliefs during one of these public forums. Since schools are banned from taking a position on a belief one way or another, it stands to reason that students could get away with saying just about anything.
Another point of concern is that minority religions may not get the same opportunities to express their viewpoints as Christian students do. School staff may not be able to prevent students from expressing religious beliefs but that doesn’t stop students from bullying others to keep their own views silent. Imagine if you’re the only Muslim or the only atheist in a school. It would be incredibly difficult for these students to freely express their own views without fear of being bullied or ridiculed for it later, which would certainly make them think twice before doing so in the future. And what about LGBT students or teen girls who have chosen to have an abortion? Should we really allow them to be ridiculed from what amounts to a religious pulpit made possible by conservative lawmakers who have an extreme agenda?
These kinds of situations are precisely why religion shouldn’t be allowed in school. Teachers and administrators already have incredibly busy and complicated jobs trying to educate students. The last thing they need is religious disputes dividing and distracting the students from accomplishing educational goals. That’s why we have churches, so that people have a place to go to believe the way they want to believe with others like them. But schools are different. Schools have diverse populations. People of different cultures, religions, creeds, ethnic backgrounds etc, attend the same schools for one purpose: to learn. Students don’t go to school to have religion forced upon them. Parents don’t send their kids to school for that either. That’s because churches exist for people to voluntarily attend to be preached to. Because of this bill, students are now forced to listen to religious views. How is that freedom? This bill is clearly more about politics than it is about actual religious freedom.