Under the guise of parent’s rights, evangelicals are hijacking public schools, banning books and working to render LGBT students invisible.
The most notorious effort is Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. The ambiguous wording of the law puts a chill on teachers trying to help LGBT students. The goals of such laws include pushing religious indoctrination, turning LGBT issues into something dirty and unmentionable, smearing Democrats as pedophiles and driving gay and transgender students deep into the closet.
In targeting LGBT students and teachers, opportunistic right-wing bullies, such as Christopher Rufo, believe they have found a salient issue. These bigots have introduced copycat “Don’t Say Gay” bills in at least 20 states, with Alabama following Florida’s lead and passing a law.
Fortunately, there is a free-speech loophole for LGBT students and their supporters that right-wing fascists are powerless to stop. While school prayer was struck down by the High Court in 1962, pupils are still allowed to pray in public schools, as long as it is student-initiated. According to The Washington Post:
In 2000, the court addressed whether it was permissible for a school to allow student-led sectarian prayer during events such as graduation and football games; the court said no. Students and faculty are free to pray on their own and gather to do so; the question is whether those prayers are official in any way.
So, one magic bullet against efforts to silence LGBT students is the formation of “Good News Rainbow Prayer Clubs.” Students who care about their LGBT friends could take the initiative to meet and “pray” in front of the school flagpole at certain times each week. Since the efforts would be unofficial student-led prayer sessions, these so-called clubs would not have to register with schools.
Once gathered, the students participating in these clubs could offer fully inclusive prayers such as:
“Dear Universe, we pray that our LGBTQ friends receive the support that they need and deserve. We hope that love conquers the ugly hate that is infecting our state and seeks to demean and dehumanize our LGBTQ friends and family members.
We beseech the Universe to stop bullying and bigotry. It is time for cynical politicians to halt trying to get elected by exploiting divisions and demeaning those with who they disagree.
It’s our belief, backed by science, that being gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender is normal and natural. The wisdom of the Universe created LGBTQ people just as they are. Attempts to say otherwise or ‘change’ them are ignorant, mean-spirited and backward. We pray that people come out of the darkness and into the light, so all LGBTQ people can experience unconditional love and full acceptance for who they are. Amen.”
Take that, Ron DeSantis!
There could be contests to create pro-LGBT prayers and the sessions could go viral by filming them and posting on social media. If the goal is continuing discourse on LGBT issues, circumventing oppressive laws and offering support to vulnerable students in schools, this is one way to do so.
How would right-wing activists, red-state lawmakers or school administrators stop these prayer sessions? Our foes would have no choice but to permit such gatherings if they are student-led. The First Amendment allows people to pray any prayer they want. Right-wing activists might hate it, but they’d have no authority to determine what people pray for or whether such prayers are sincere.
Could you imagine the chaos if frustrated evangelicals created some sort of prayer police to decide which student-led prayers were legitimate and sincere? Not only would this be unconstitutional, but how many of their own “prayers,” for example, to become rich or smite people they dislike, would be ruled disingenuous or offensive?
The bottom line is that students can “say gay” all day if they frame the issue as prayer. Any attempt to stop it is a violation of the freedom to worship — a right that religious conservatives have allegedly fought so hard to protect.
Sure, it’s not a perfect solution, but it’s one that our foes are powerless to stop and must learn to live with. When they object, we can point to their own writings and dismiss them with a wry smile, calmly intoning, “We agree with you. Religious liberty is important, but it means religious freedom for everyone. Would you like to join our Good News Rainbow Prayer Club?”
Wayne Besen is an author, talk show host and LGBTQ advocate. He is Executive Director of Truth Wins Out, an LGBTQ organization that fights the Religious Right and monitors "ex-gay" conversion therapy programs.