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A teenager created a Prayer Mirror in her high school's bathroom. It needs to come down.
The student had wonderful intentions. That doesn't mean her public school should allow it to remain up.
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Earlier this month at Foley High School in Alabama, a student “decorated” a girls’ bathroom by putting up a sign reading “Prayer Mirror” and encouraging students to write “a prayer request, bible verse, or something positive” on Post-it notes and stick them up.
It’s a cute idea, and it didn’t take long for the notes to take over the wall. Some of them really were positive affirmations: “Be happy!” “Smile, life is too short to be unhappy!” “Be the reason someone smiles today.”
Many of them were religious: “Respond like Jesus, not the world.” “God is always with you.” “With God, all things are possible.”
As far as legality goes, there’s probably nothing wrong with this as a one-off project. At least nothing the student should be punished for. Students have more leeway to promote religion in a way teachers cannot, and this is much more of an opt-in approach (as opposed to, say, hijacking the intercom during morning announcements to read a Bible verse).
More importantly, perhaps, when you set aside the question of legality and just look at intention, this is a nice gesture. When so many students are inundated with negativity and have low self-esteem, this is… uplifting.
That doesn’t mean the Prayer Mirror should remain up, though.
The school can’t let bathrooms become a place for religious proselytizing. And the school definitely shouldn’t be promoting this Prayer Mirror on social media, which they did, calling it a “positive affirmation campaign in our girls' bathroom.”
That’s… one way to just ignore the religious aspect of it. Just pretend it’s not there! But of course it is there. We can literally see it in the picture. And if you zoom in, you can see it in several of the notes. This went from a student “project” to a school-endorsed promotion of Christianity.
Now the Freedom From Religion Foundation is getting involved. Attorney Chris Line just sent a letter to the Baldwin County Public Schools letting them know why this is a problem:
… While we can certainly understand why the District would want to create a forum for students to provide messages of positivity and affirmation to boost its students’ morale, the District cannot do so through a “prayer mirror” where students are encouraged to post prayer requests, bible verses, and other religious messages.
We ask that the District investigate this matter, remove this religious display and stop encouraging students to participate in this “prayer mirror” in order to protect the rights of students to be free from religious coercion in their public schools.
If the school actually promoted an “Affirmation” wall, even if a student wrote a Bible verse on a sticky note, that would be perfectly fine. But promoting a Prayer Mirror crosses the line.
FFRF has the right idea here, even if it will inevitably be spun by some Christian websites as an Evil Atheist Group going after a child who wanted to bring joy to her classmates. That spin, however, would be inaccurate. There’s nothing stopping this school (or this student!) from repeating the experiment without injecting religion into the mix.
After all, what’s more important to them: the positive affirmations or pushing Jesus on kids?