When Long Beach High School in Mississippi held its “22nd Annual Superintendent’s Academic Awards” this spring, the schedule included a speaking slot for Mayor George Bass (below). Specifically, Bass was scheduled to deliver a prayer, which is exactly what he did:
Bass led the assembled group of parents, students and staff in a prayer addressed to “our Father” and concluding, “in Jesus Christ’s name, Amen.”
Why was a Christian prayer scheduled at a public school event? And even in Mississippi, how did every administrator and the mayor himself not realize this was breaking the law?
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. The Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote to the same school last September regarding a football coach who prayed with students and a marching band director who “scheduled recitations of the Lord’s Prayer.” They never heard back.
But FFRF is writing again to put a stop to the mayor’s prayers.
“The Supreme Court has continually struck down formal and school-sponsored prayer in public schools,” writes Associate Counsel Sam Grover. “The Supreme Court struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools because it constitutes a government endorsement of religion, which violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and interferes with the personal conscience of students.”
FFRF informs the mayor that he represents a diverse population consisting not only of Christians, but religious minorities who do not believe in the divinity of Jesus, as well as atheists and agnostics who do not believe in the power of prayer. His choice to deliver a Christian prayer at a school award ceremony, while acting in his official capacity, sends an official message of endorsement of religion over nonreligion, and Christianity over all other faiths, that excludes many Long Beach residents, including some of the students being awarded.
FFRF asks the mayor to remember that he is charged with great responsibility and has been given significant trust by his constituents, including those citizens who have elected to lead a life free from religion. Leaving religion as a private matter for private citizens is the wisest public policy (and is one of the foundational principles enshrined in our Bill of Rights), FFRF stresses.
“The mayor and school district in Long Beach are violating the rights of students who don’t follow the majority religion,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Public schools exist to educate, not to indoctrinate, and they can’t engage in religious rituals.”
The mayor’s letter also includes a reference to the city’s illegal endorsement of the National Day of Prayer. FFRF never heard back about that, either.
Ignoring the people pointing out how the law works doesn’t make the law disappear. FFRF is doing the district and the mayor a favor by giving them a chance to avoid any potential lawsuit. Instead of thanking them, the local leaders are just pretending the letters they received don’t exist, as if that’s a justification to continue their actions.
How many warnings do these people need before a judge has to set them straight?
(Image via Facebook. Thanks to Brian for the link)