Civil Liberties group, spooked by the word 'atheist', rejects humanist donation

Civil Liberties group, spooked by the word 'atheist', rejects humanist donation April 1, 2010

THE American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi has rejected a $20,000 gift  from the American Humanist Association intended to finance an alternate prom replacing one cancelled by a local school district after a lesbian student demanded that she be allowed to attend with her girlfriend.

Constance McMillan
Last month the Itawamba County School District in Mississippi sparked outrage by cancelling their prom rather than allowing Constance McMillen, 18, to bring her girlfriend as her date. The alternate prom is scheduled for May 8.
The AHA stepped in at once, offering ACLU, which was championing McMillen’s case, the money for one of several privately sponsored alternate events.
But, according to this report, Jennifer Carr, fundraiser for the Mississippi ACLU branch, wrote in an e-mail message to Roy Speckhardt, Executive Director of the humanist group.

Although we support and understand organizations like yours, the majority of Mississippians tremble in terror at the word ‘atheist’.

Carr added:

Our staff has been talking a lot about your donation offer and have found ourselves in a bit of a conflict. We have fears that your organization sponsoring the prom could stir up even more controversy.

After the Mississippi school board told Constance McMillen, the student, that she could neither bring her girlfriend to the dance nor appear in a tuxedo, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Itawamba County school district on McMillen’s behalf. A federal judge ruled that her rights had been violated but did not require that the event be reinstated. (See this video report).
Speckhardt said he was “really shocked” to hear the gift had been rejected.

We’ve worked with the ACLU many times in the past so this really felt like a slap in the face to me.

He said the Humanist Association had also worked with the Alliance of Baptists and other religious organizations before and could not understand why Carr thought what she described as “these Southern Baptist types” would be offended by its gift.
Todd Stiefel, a member of the Humanist Association who donated the money with his wife, Diana, said he was:

Extremely disappointed in the ACLU. You’d think they would have learned a lesson from the very case they’ve been working on. The school board was trying to avoid a controversy by silencing a controversial minority, and now the ACLU is making the same mistake.

Kristy Bennett, the legal director of the ACLU of Mississippi, said in a telephone interview that the Humanist Association had attached conditions to its gift that the organizers of the event would have trouble meeting, among other issues.

Constance has had a lot of controversy around her over this, and in looking at the best interest of our client, I don’t know any more controversy would have benefited her.

The Humanist Association said it had placed virtually no conditions on the gift.

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