Oxford and Lafayette County schools setting policies on religious expression

Education stockThe Associated Press

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Oxford and Lafayette County schools have adopted policies to ensure students’ freedom of religious expression, as required by a new state law.

The Oxford Eagle reports that such expression had not previously been in jeopardy. But the Mississippi law mandates that all local school boards adopt policies.

The four-page plan adopted by the Lafayette County School District on Thursday was borrowed from the state’s recommended policy. It offers details on all students’ freedom to speak and share their religious viewpoints at school.

The policy says a student cannot face discrimination for submitting religious content in homework, artwork and other written and oral assignments. Students may submit a prayer instead of a poem when required as a class assignment. The policy also says students may organize prayer groups and the groups must be given the same access to facilities for assembling as any other group.

“This is not to change being able to pray at ball games,” Lafayette County Superintendent Adam Pugh said. “It was to prevent any student from being suppressed from expressing their religious views in papers or creative writing. This policy prevents us from doing this.”

The Oxford School Board in August adopted a modified policy from the state’s suggested plan to allow more freedom for administrators and teachers. The policy says the district will treat a student’s expression of religious viewpoint like any other viewpoint and will not discriminate.

Speakers at school events and graduation must be selected based on neutral criteria and if a speaker decides to talk about religion, he or she has that right. The new policy also says student speakers can’t use obscene, vulgar, offensively lewd or indecent speech. A disclaimer must be written at events explaining that student views do not reflect district opinion. The policy also claims that if the state law requiring these policies is declared unconstitutional or unlawful by any court, the policy will cease.

Oxford School Board attorney Paul Watkins said students already had freedom of religious expression and freedom of speech.