Mississippi Governor on School Prayer: “It Is What We Should Continue To Do”

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant knows that prayer in public school is illegal—but he wants it anyway.

In a graduation speech on May 29, Bryant said he believes that the Supreme Court will come around on the issue in a “moment of enlightenment”. In his speech to 300 high school seniors about the benefits of school prayer, he reminisced about the days of his childhood when such practices “built our character.”

In his remarks to the press, the governor noted that with multiple denominations, an appropriate prayer might be difficult to decide upon. Yet, a non-denominational prayer would do well to “let people know there is a God.”

Governor Bryant seems to have forgotten that there are specific reasons why the Supreme Court has set restrictions regarding religious activity in public schools in the first place. Our school system helps preserve the crucial concept that citizens should have the right to choose their own ethical beliefs, even if they stand at odds with those of other people. In an educational setting where attendance is required for the children involved, it is wrong for the government to privilege one type of religious belief over another—or over non-belief.

Instead, Bryant appears to display exactly the sort of narrow worldview that our laws are there to protect against. The governor is only concerned with reconciling the contending views within the denominations of his own Judeo-Christian belief system, and he does not seem aware that a non-denominational prayer will always ignore certain religious traditions, as well as those people without a religious belief—millions of American citizens who have every right to feel comfortable in public schools that are supposed to serve everyone.

Too often, politicians ignore the nonreligious, a group that makes up a sizeable amount of the American population. In fact, there are 40 million Americans who do not identify with any particular religion.

Students, like all other Americans, have the right to pray, but prayer should not be government sanctioned. This is because we have a separation of religion and government that protects all of us; nonreligious and religious alike.

Currently, Governor Bryant has no plans to pursue legislation to legalize school prayer in Mississippi, yet he continues to rationalize his position with the myth that the United States was and is a Christian nation.

Perhaps Governor Bryant should have spent more of his school days learning history rather than praying. Maybe then he would remember that many Europeans first journeyed across the Atlantic specifically that so that they could escape a government required religion.  He’d also do well to remember that in America, elected officials are put in place to represent all of their constituents—not only those whose personal religious beliefs happen to coincide with their own.

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