Recognizing that children enjoy the same constitutional liberties as their parents, last week, the state of Mississippi passed the Mississippi Student Religious Liberties Act.
The law addresses a surging and disturbing uptick in religious discrimination taking place in our public schools. In the face of an increasing number of reports of students – from all over the country – being censored from praying at athletic events, referencing their faith at graduation ceremonies, and even displaying Bible verses (like “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”) on cheerleader-made spirit banners, Governor Phil Bryant signed the law to assure that students are treated differently in the Magnolia State.
The Mississippi Student Religious Liberties Act, which will be enacted July 1st of the year, requires the public school districts in the state to adopt a policy establishing a “limited public forum” for students to express their religious beliefs, irrespective of the beliefs they choose to express.
Thanks to this new law, Mississippi students will be able to pray and refer to their faith in situations where other forms of student speech are deemed acceptable in school settings, from the intercom during announcements to team huddles.
They will be free to organize religious-oriented clubs on campus and mention their deeply-held religious beliefs in assignments without fear of sanction. And yes, cheerleaders will also be able to paint Bible verses on their spirit banners.
Last month, my home state of Mississippi was chided by many for being the last state in the Union to ratify the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. This month, the State is taking bold leadership in guarding constitutional freedoms.
Every state would do well to emulate this effort, reaffirming the existence of First Amendment rights in public schools. The constitutional protections granted student expressions of faith are too often lost on those charged with the educational care of our children.
As State Senator Chris McDaniel, the principal author of this legislation, explains: “Due to a misinterpretation of Establishment Clause principles, religious expression has been improperly suppressed by some teachers and administrators. Government should not discriminate against or disfavor religious expression. Students do not discard their liberties at the schoolhouse door. The First Amendment is consistent with SB 2633 in that it protects the right of freedom of expression from unnecessary government interference, even if that expression happens to be religious.”
This law, of course, may encounter legal challenges from organizations committed to the strict secularization of the culture. But the State vows to stand behind its students. Mississippi Speaker of the House, Philip Gunn, has welcomed an offer from Center for Religious Expression to defend the law, should that defense become necessary.
In Mississippi, you must be 21 years old to marry, 15 years and six months old to drive, and at least 14 years old to work, but the State rightly confirms by law there is no age requirement for religious expression.
Posted by Nate Kellum