The University of Mississippi is in the heart of the “Bible Belt” of the South. As home to more than 20 religious student organizations (most of which are in the Christian religion), it is clear to see the rich culture of religiosity and impact that Christianity has on this campus. While religious liberty is a major topic of discussion at public universities across the country, Ole Miss is leading by example in allowing students to publicly express their beliefs.
In 1975, a group of students made plans to fund the building of a religious house on campus to serve students, faculty and community members. Completed in the early 2000s, Paris-Yates Chapel has brought together religious students of all denominations.
The Peddle Bell Tower reminds us of this holy house. The bells ring hourly, and a hymn is played at 5 p.m. each afternoon, allowing students to reflect on the day with their creator in mind. The chapel serves more than a meeting place for religious student organizations like Cru and the Wesley Foundation — it also hosts community members, serving as a meeting place for St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church while its building was under construction.
Even more prevalent than the religious community at Ole Miss is the competitive athletics department. Historically, leaders of university athletics programs have aimed to create a religious culture through their departments and among athletes. Former head football coach Hugh Freeze faced opposition from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a group committed to the separation of church and state, for his alleged actions in promoting a Christian environment on his team. Freeze hired a team chaplain to lead worship services and gatherings, led his team in prayer and endorsed the Ole Miss Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He took to social media often, citing scripture and religious inspiration to encourage his players and followers.
Like Freeze, other prominent coaches and athletics department staff hold sincere religious beliefs, which they share with some of their players. Head baseball coach Mike Bianco and former head football coach Matt Luke have encouraged their Christian student-athletes in their spiritual walks.
As a religious student, when I see players kneeling in the endzone before a football game to ask their God for strength, it empowers me to share their faith in public ways. The average student may not interact with such high-profile names on campus, but the impact that their prominence has can be seen in how the athletes and students feel comfortable expressing their faith during their time at the university.
Religious individuals at the university should be proud to live in a state that respects the sanctity of the First Amendment and promotes its liberty to each individual. Our state arguably leads the way in religious freedom. Christian Ole Miss students can rest assured that Christian symbols and practices will persist despite those, such as Freedom from Religion Foundation, who fight to remove all public displays of religion. No matter race, gender or creed, Mississippi and its beloved institution are a beacon of hope for the rest of the country, fighting for religious liberty as the nation’s founders intended.
Lauren Moses is a junior economics and political science major from Coppell, Texas.