A Mississippi school teacher came under fire earlier earlier this year for having a “prayer board” on display in her classroom used to accept prayer requests from students.

The eighth-grade math teacher reportedly received a complaint from a student, and later a parent, asking her to remove the board from the classroom.

The teacher allegedly refused and instead insisted she would keep it in her classroom – even if she had to remove the word “prayer,” according to an organization called the “American Humanist Association” that filed the complaint on behalf of a parent.

Personally, I like the idea of having a prayer board to give students a venue to ask for – and receive – prayers from their fellow students and teachers. However, we must not forget that in the arena of public education – where state and federal tax dollars are utilized to fund our children’s education – teachers cannot and should not show preference to one religion over another.

Just imagine if the shoe was on the other foot. Had the teacher been of the Muslim faith and had she reserved space in her classroom for which to display a public list of prayers for Allah, the narrow-minded Mississippi parents would have stormed the middle school.

As far as I’m concerned, this issue isn’t about the teacher’s constitutional right to express her religious freedom as much as it is about protecting the right of other teachers who might want to express their religious freedom of a different origin.

In Mississippi – the cradle of the Bible belt – voters seem to have a tough time realizing that their zealous religious leanings contradict the same laws they expect to protect their children from the infringement of other faiths and religions in public education.

There are plenty of great private schools in Mississippi where this type of issue would be met quite differently and I’m confident the headmasters of those schools would gladly welcome new students into their classrooms.

On the other hand, parents who willingly keep their children in public schools should be reminded that prayer has never been taken out of the classroom. Ask any kid who’s getting ready to take a test for which they are woefully unprepared.

The great thing about the Christian faith is that God has given believers an opportunity to pray anywhere and anytime they so choose. In the Book of Matthew, Christ reminded his followers that “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

That’s true at home. At church. In the workplace. And even at middle schools in Mississippi.

David Gustafson is the not-so mild-mannered editor of the Chagrin Valley Times, Solon Times, and Geauga Times Courier. Email him at: editor@chagrinvalleytimes.com

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