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Decision was right, but was not easy

The decision by a school superintendent in Lee County to remove religious items at a school was the right one, even if it is very unpopular with most Mississippians.

Lee County Superintendent Jimmy Weeks recently required school principals to remove religious items from school walls.

“It is certainly not the intent of the district to squelch peoples’ freedom of expression or their freedom to worship as they choose,” Weeks told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.

Following a complaint made by the Freedom from Religion Foundation before spring break, religious personal items and décor were removed from Saltillo Elementary School, the newspaper reported.

“We are not supposed to display religious items on the walls,” Weeks said in an email to principals. “We are not supposed to display scripture on the walls of the hallways, anything that is easily viewable when someone enters a hallway, or an office or a classroom.”

While most of us find scripture on the walls of public schools to be encouraging, uplifting and appropriate, the government does not. And it is understandable why the school district made the decision.

While Christianity is the dominant religion in Mississippi, it is not the religion of all students and all teachers. The First Amendment does not allow governments — which a public school is a part of — to do things that can be considered establishing a religion. 

But religion can still be expressed in public schools. Teachers and students can wear jewelry and clothing that expresses their faith. They can also pray. They can discuss the Bible. They can listen to religious music. Students can also include religious viewpoints in assignments, and teachers can use religious texts to teach from.

The limits the Constitution places on government and religion are there to protect us from an overbearing government that seeks to force a religion upon us.

Had the religious items in question in Lee County referenced the Quran, most of the same people supporting the freedom to hang Bible verses on the wall would have protested. They would never have tolerated it, and rightly so. “How dare that teacher try to shove Islam down little Jimmy’s throat?” The same argument must be used, even when we are part of the religion being promoted. It is the only way to ensure that religious freedom is enjoyed by everyone.