The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which has gained its reputation (and a tidy living for its employees) by suing school districts and municipalities over public prayer, has chosen schools in Mississippi and Tennessee as its latest targets. According to the Mississippi Press website, the Wisconsin-based atheist group has threatened all 151 Mississippi school superintendents with lawsuits if they allow prayer over public address systems during school football games. Last September the FFRF targeted Mississippi's Jackson County school district over its inclusion of prayer at athletic and other school events, prompting the district to redouble its efforts to protect the free-speech guarantees of its students.
The Mississippi Press reported that in its letter to the superintendents, the FFRF “cited a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court case involving Santa Fe schools in which judges ruled that a policy permitting student-led and student-initiated prayer at public high school football games and other public school-sponsored events violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.” The report noted that in an effort to address the continued FFRF assault on students in the state, the Mississippi House of Representatives passed the “Schoolchildren's Religious Liberties Act,” which stipulates that each school district must treat a student's voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint in the same manner that it treats his or her expression of a secular opinion. In addition, students must have the freedom to organize prayer groups, Bible studies, faith-based clubs, and other religious gatherings, and each school must establish policies for public forums that allow student speakers to express religious viewpoints at school events.
J.D Simpson, executive director of First Priority, a Christian ministry that reaches out to students in public and private schools, said that the issue boils down to First Amendment freedoms. “You can take away the microphone,” he said, “but you can't take away our mouth. We still have the freedom of speech.”
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