JACKSON, MS (WDAM) - Gov. Phil Bryant is expected to sign a bill passed by the House Wednesday that would allow some forms of student-lead prayer at school events.
The bill seeks to establish public forums for student speakers "at all school events at which a student is to publicly speak." The bill goes on to say schools would be required to provide such a forum while at the same time schools must publicly express that they do not sponsor the messages delivered within it. Thus, certain school activities would now be labeled as "limited public forums" in which students may lead prayers. Those forums, according to the bill, may include football games, pep rallies, graduation ceremonies, and morning announcements.
In addition, Senate Bill 2633 would guarantee the rights of students to voluntarily express religious beliefs within school assignments, something students are already allowed to do, and guarantee students the right to voluntarily talk about faith in class work, activities that are not currently forbidden.
Other aspects of the bill include guaranteeing the freedom of students to organize religious clubs and their right to wear to school religious symbols and clothing with religious messages.
Opponents cite that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled multiple times that The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution proclaims that schools may neither promote nor inhibit the religious practices and beliefs of students and that this bill seeks a workaround to those rulings.
In 2012, The American Civil Liberties Union demanded a south Mississippi school district stop having prayers and religious activities at games and other events saying such activity violated the U.S. Constitution by incorporating prayer and other religious messages into school functions.
Also in 2012, The Freedom from Religion Foundation issued a warning to Mississippi's 151 school superintendents not to allow prayer to take place over the intercom during football games or those schools would be sued. At the time, the organization pointed to SCOTUS rulings that pre-game prayer over the intercom, even when lead by a student, was unconstitutional.
Jones County State Senator Chris McDaniel authored the bill and says it will stand up to any legal challenge.
"What this does, it makes it clear that the expressive conduct is not that of the state," he said. "If the conduct is not that of the state, then the Supreme Court has said that speech is protected speech, even if it's religious. So, the ACLU, if they claim it's unconstitutional, they're dead wrong and we look forward to our day in court, if that's the case," he said.
The bill, if passed, would enact the Mississippi Student Religious Liberties Act of 2013. You can read the full text of the bill here: http://legiscan.com/MS/text/SB2633/id/706552