Emily Cassulo

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Video: New State Law Allows Student Religious Expression

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LOWNDES COUNTY, Miss. – High school football season is here, and if you make it out to a game, you could see some changes in what happens before the game even starts because of a new state law.

It’s called the Mississippi Student Religious Liberties Act of 2013.

It requires public school districts to adopt a policy allowing students to express their religious beliefs in a “limited public forum” at school events – like a football game.

The policy must have a disclaimer, saying that the student’s opinion isn’t necessarily that of the school district.

School leaders in Lowndes County say this new law allows students to express their religious beliefs at school without fear of repercussions.

“It’s been challenged several times, and in some cases, students would be disciplined if somebody said they were offended for somebody wearing a cross or somebody having a prayer in a classroom,” said Lowndes County Supt. Lynn Wright.

Prior to the start of classes, Wright says he’s sent copies of the law to school principals for them to review.

Parents WCBI spoke with say there’s nothing wrong with praying in schools or at school events – even if it’s over an intercom.

“School violence is going on everywhere,” said parent Tyshon Rogers. “I feel like kids need prayer ’cause I feel like everybody’s in danger.”

“I think that if you’re comfortable in your belief, your religion, that you would be comfortable around other religions as well, and you would also be open minded to those other religious beliefs,” said Gulfport resident Scott Henry.

Lowndes County school leaders say don’t expect to see any major changes at their schools.

“We were already having prayer before ball games and at different assemblies,” Wright said. “We had not restricted this. We had not forced or imposed this on anyone, but it’s just, it’s pretty much a tradition in the South.”

Wright says you can likely expect to see a student lead prayer at next Friday’s home game.

WCBI spoke with the Mississippi ACLU by phone to get their take on this new state law.

They said they don’t think this law was necessary. They believe this law encourages organized prayer, which violates the constitution.

Wright says their school board will likely discuss the new law at its next meeting in September.