Included is the right for students to voluntarily express their religious viewpoints in a limited public forum, which could include a football.
JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -
With a large crowd of supporters, Governor Phil Bryant signed the Mississippi Student Religious Liberties Act of 2013 in to law Thursday afternoon. Included is the right for students to voluntarily express their religious viewpoints in a limited public forum, which could include a football.
"It makes clear it is not endorsed or sponsored by the state but is instead by the student. If that is the case, then that is private speech," said the bill's author (R) Senator Chris McDaniel.
According to McDaniel, an endorsement would be if the state wrote the prayer or invited a pastor to deliver the prayer. Legal director of the ACLU of Mississippi, Bear Atwood, says the new law is cause for concern.
"It's about the school favoring the concept of religion and so that still violates the constitution," said Atwood.
"Prayer for example is not, per say, unconstitutional. It only becomes problematic when the state has endorsed it, and this makes it clear that the state has not, but it still protects the expression," explained McDaniel.
Atwood believes the law is also not fair to parents who wish to teach their children about religion a certain way or those who are atheist. She also says educators would not be able to participate in a student led prayer because they work for the state.
McDaniel asserts the act covers every religion.
"We'll see how schools react when a Wiccan child wants to say a prayer that's apart of their faith. I mean, honestly, I think that this law will not protect those young people. That they will be very seriously discouraged from engaging in prayer," said Atwood.
"At the end of the day, we're not going to back down. Anytime we're fighting for liberty, anytime we're fighting for freedom it's worth the fight and its worth the effort to the extent that someone is offended; I would suggest that being offended is the price we pay for living in a free society," said McDaniel.
The law allows for students to use religious figures in classroom work, establish clubs and activities, and wear religious symbols, which Atwood says is already covered in the Constitution.
Atwood says the ACLU will monitor how the law will be implemented in Mississippi schools before deciding to challenge its legality in court.