No punishment for ‘blasphemy,’ FFRF tells Miss. school system

DeSoto County Schools logo

Stop punishing children for the made-up offense of blasphemy, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is insisting to a Mississippi school district.

It was recently brought to FFRF’s attention that a student at Hope Sullivan Elementary School in the DeSoto County Schools system was punished for saying “Jesus Christ” after he dropped some toys he was playing with. A spokesperson for the school district said, “DeSoto County students would not be reprimanded for simply saying Jesus Christ. It is possible that a student could be corrected for a disrespectful use of Jesus Christ’s name.”

DeSoto County Schools cannot punish a student for “disrespectful use of Jesus Christ’s name,” FFRF reminds the school district. While teachers can, of course, enforce rules related to cursing or inappropriate language, imposing religious blasphemy rules on students violates both the Establishment Clause and Free Speech clauses of the Constitution.

“It is well settled that public schools may not show favoritism towards, nor encourage or coerce belief in any religion,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to the school district’s legal counsel. “Thus, a school district cannot mandate, encourage, or coerce students into complying with religious rules, such as prohibitions on blasphemy.”

The edict to refrain from taking the Lord’s name in vain comes from the Ten Commandments and has no secular basis, FFRF emphasizes. In Stone v. Graham (1980), the U.S. Supreme Court said, “The preeminent purpose for posting the Ten Commandments on schoolroom walls is plainly religious in nature.” The Supreme Court also acknowledged the purely religious basis of the Ten Commandments in McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky (2005), calling the prohibition on “vain oath swearing” a “detail … of religious obligation.” If a school may not post the Ten Commandments, it certainly cannot impose them on students, because the preeminent purpose for enforcing them against students is also plainly religious.

Hence, Desoto County Schools must ensure that its teachers and administrators are no longer violating students’ rights by punishing them for “disrespectfully” saying “Jesus Christ” or otherwise “taking the Lord’s name in vain.”

“The child who was reprimanded is attending a secular public school, not a religious institution,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “This was an egregious and traumatizing violation of the child’s rights. The district must adopt clear policies ensuring such overreach will never recur and publicly apologize to the child and his family.”

The full FFRF letter can be read here.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members across the country, including members in Mississippi. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

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Freedom From Religion Foundation

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