Mississippi lawmakers have passed legislation that would legalize student-led prayer in the state's public schools. Senate Bill 2633, which went to Gov. Phil Bryant March 6 for his signature, would also allow students to talk about their faith in the classroom and organize school Bible clubs, as well as pray at football games, graduation ceremonies, and during morning announcements.
Sponsors of the bill said that secular groups have intimidated and confused school administrators about the legality of religious expression in schools, and the law is meant to bring clarity. According to those on both sides of the issue, “Organized school prayer remains widespread in Mississippi, despite opponents’ efforts to curtail it,” reported the Associated Press. “In October, for example, the ACLU sent a letter to the Lincoln County school system demanding a halt to routine prayer at West Lincoln High School.”
The bill's proponents insist it will not force students to pray, but will enable them to do so voluntarily. But Bear Atwood, director of Mississippi's ACLU chapter, argued that students who do not wish to pray would still be a captive audience. Christianity Today quoted Atwood as saying that the new law could also lead to procedural issues and unwanted favoritism, such as with “school administrators selecting which students lead prayer in announcements or before a basketball game.”
One of the leaders in the campaign for school prayer over the past several years has been Republican State Rep. Mark Formby, who has introduced a school prayer bill every year since 2009.
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