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Gov. Bryant Signs School Prayer Bill

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 14 Mar 2013 06:36pm | comments

Mississippi public school students could soon have more leeway to organize prayer in a school setting. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports Governor Phil Bryant has signed a law known as the Mississippi Student Religious Liberties Act.

Flanked by dozens of legislators, pastors, and school prayer advocates, Governor Phil Bryant signed the bill into law Thursday.

Bryant says the law outlines certain school events as 'limited public forums' where students can be allowed to organize and lead religious prayer.

“A limited public forum for students at graduation and non-graduation ceremonies. That limited public forum might take different views from different people but it will be the freedom of expression for that student in that forum for graduation and non-graduation events like football games,” Bryant said.

Bryant says the policy must include a disclaimer that such student speech "does not reflect the endorsement, sponsorship, position or expression of the district."

The law is already drawing the opposition of groups like the American Civil Liberties Union.

Mississippi ACLU legal director Bear Atwood says the law is unnecessary and problematic because it could allow students to preach to a captive audience of fellow students.

“And really does set up some unconstitutional circumstances that would put some school children in the place of being a captive audience. Being coerced into listen to prayer that may not be what their family’s faith is. That may not agree with their religious upbringing,” Atwood said.

Atwood says she is waiting to see how the law plays out before deciding whether or not to sue.

One of the law's author, Senator Chris McDaniel of Ellisville, says he welcomes a court challenge.

“We have seen another law upheld, very similar, in the fourth circuit and the eleventh circuit court of appeals. Someone my challenge it. Certainly that is their prerogative. And we look forward to seeing them in court because we feel very strongly about this and we are going to defend it,” McDaniel said.

The law does not take effect until July first of this year.

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