FFRF objects to religious promotion over school loudspeakers

1TopLogoThe Freedom From Religion Foundation is taking on some deeply troubling constitutional violations in a Mississippi school district.

Administrators at both Biloxi Junior High and Biloxi High in Biloxi, Miss., have reportedly been promoting religious events over the schools’ public address systems. At Biloxi High School there was a broadcast announcement reminding students to participate in a “See You at the Pole” event (a Christian-oriented prayer rally organized each year) taking place on school property. At Biloxi Junior High, Principal Scott Powell announced over the loudspeakers on Oct. 4 and 5 that students “shouldn’t forget to bring their bibles to school on October 6th” for “Bring Your Bible to School Day,” a privately organized, nonschool religious event. There was no disclaimer that the school was not endorsing the occasion. Private events are not generally advertised over the intercom.

District staff should not promote religious events to their students. Additionally, FFRF has notified the school district that some teachers may be actively organizing and participating in religious events and clubs on campus.

“Public schools may not advance, prefer, or promote religion,” FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover writes to Biloxi Public Schools Superintendent Arthur McMillan. “Public school representatives may not organize or endorse a prayer event like See You at the Pole or an event designed to promote a religious text like Bring your Bible to School Day.”

The district has an obligation under the law to make certain that “subsidized teachers do not inculcate religion,” FFRF asserts, quoting the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark Lemon v. Kurtzman case. When district staff members promote their personal religious beliefs, they violate not only the Constitution, but also the trust of parents.

Religion is a divisive force in public schools. The promotion of a Christian event alienates those non-Christian students, families, teachers, and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted by the school, excluding the 35 percent of young Americans who are not religious and the more than 43 percent who are not Christian.

School promotion of these events is illegal regardless of whether the events are voluntary for students. Federal courts have summarily rejected arguments that voluntariness excuses a constitutional violation. When school employees actively participate in religious events with their students, they unconstitutionally entangle the school with a religious message, in this case an exclusively Christian message. Even See You at the Pole’s official website recognizes that students, not school staff, should be organizing and participating in these events.

FFRF requests that the school district investigate the situations described above and take action to ensure that its employees understand and respect their constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion while acting in their official capacities.

“Public school employees should live up to their responsibility to remain steadfastly neutral in matters of religion,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The fact that there are so many violations happening in a single school district is alarming.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nontheist organization dedicated to the separation of state and church, with more than 23,000 members all over the country, including in Mississippi.


Freedom From Religion Foundation

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