Unconstitutional “magic” in Illinois school district stops after FFRF complaint

EastMoline IL Flyer 600X429

A magician who was performing one trick too many at Illinois public schools has been barred from a school district there, thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

A concerned community member had contacted FFRF to report that Glenview Middle School in East Moline, Ill., was scheduled to host Zak Mirzadeh, an “illusionist,” to put on a show at a student assembly during the school day. Mirzadeh had in the recent past performed at other Moline schools at mandatory assemblies, after which he had given students the invites (pictured above) for an evening performance. This took place at the “New Life Fellowship” but the invitation failed to indicate that this venue is a Christian church.

A Moline-Coal Valley School District parent who attended that evening event observed that, after performing some magic tricks, Mirzadeh told the audience of schoolchildren about his conversion from Islam to Christianity. Following his religious testimony, he asked the audience to bow their heads and close their eyes while he said a prayer, then asked the schoolchildren to raise their hand if they had “accepted Jesus tonight.” He instructed the audience to stand and asked those students who had raised their hands to come forward to celebrate their “spiritual birthday.” FFRF had strongly objected to that “performance” by Mirzadeh and was concerned he would engage in the same sleight of hand at Glenview Middle.

“It is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion,” FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne wrote to East Moline School District 37 Superintendent Kristin Humphries. “ In Lee v. Weisman, the Supreme Court extended the prohibition of school-sponsored religious activities beyond classrooms to all school functions, holding prayers delivered by non-school personnel at public high school graduations an impermissible establishment of religion. Similarly, promotion of a particular church or religious event as part of a school assembly violates the Establishment Clause.”

FFRF’s alert made the district superintendent look at the matter closely — and to nix Mirzadeh’s appearance.

“Upon further inspection, this group was at Glenview Middle School in the fall when they were at Moline as well,” Humphries emailed FFRF. “Last fall, my principal told the person they will not be allowed back in our building in the future. He did this last fall because of comments made during the presentation. I appreciate you illuminating this for me.”

FFRF is always glad to shine a spotlight on unconstitutional practices in public schools.

“Mirzadeh couldn’t have been permitted to impose the illusion of religion on a captive middle-school audience,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We’re delighted that we enlightened the school district about Mirzadeh’s performing scam.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 31,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 1,000 members and a Chicago chapter in Illinois. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters related to nontheism.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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