FFRF denounces religious staff event in Miss. school district

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging a Mississippi public school district to refrain from unconstitutional religious promotion after district staff members were subjected to proselytization during a mandatory event.

A district community member reported to FFRF, a national state/church watchdog, that Lee County Schools hosted a professional development event at The Orchard church on July 31. This “convocation” was reportedly a required event for all district employees. District administrators invited Pastor Bryan Collier, a Methodist minister, to deliver the keynote address during the event. Collier apparently also delivered an address at last year’s convocation, and in both instances has used the opportunity to promote his personal religious beliefs to those assembled.

FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to the district urging it to cease unconstitutionally hosting events at churches and to ensure in the future that speakers at district-sponsored events do not promote their personal religious beliefs to a captive audience of public school educators.

“No teacher should have to listen to a preacher’s sermon delivered from a church pulpit in order to teach in Lee County Schools,” Grover writes. “Lee County Schools should not require any of its employees to enter a church in order to attend professional development events and certainly should not incorporate religious remarks into those events.”

Not only does this religious ceremony amount to governmental endorsement of religion, it is also exclusionary of the minority religious and nonreligious staff members whose religious beliefs do not align with the brand of Christianity being promoted by the school.

“Teachers that choose not to attend not only risk losing their teaching license, but also risk damaging their reputation among faculty members and administrators,” Grover added. “Forcing minority religious and nonreligious employees to make such a choice is inappropriate and undermines the very purpose of hosting district-wide community-building events.”

“This religious promotion is not only problematic from a constitutional perspective, but it is also a harmful violation of staff’s freedom of conscience,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Including exclusionary and divisive religious rhetoric in official district events is a detriment to the entire school community.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 30,000 members across the country and in every state, including in Mississippi. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating 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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