Principal pushed school prayer

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter of complaint Aug. 10 about illegal school prayer to Superintendent Wayne Rodolfich of the Pascagoula [Miss.] School District.

FFRF, a state-church watchdog based in Madison, Wis., is the nation's largest group of atheists, agnostics and freethinkers, with more than 16,000 members, including many in Mississippi.

"It is our information and understanding that on July 31, a public prayer session was held at Pascagoula High School at the request of Principal Al Sparkman," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt. "It is our information that faculty members, parents students and pastors gathered at the school to pray for the success of the upcoming school year. A faculty member proclaimed [according to a news story], 'They say you can take prayer out of schools, but you can’t take it out of our hearts, Lord.' "

FFRF noted that it's well-settled law that public schools may not advance or promote religion, including religious exercises such as prayer.

"This event clearly demonstrates that the school prefers religion over nonreligion," Schmitt wrote. In addition, it sends a message that the approximate 15 percent of the population that is nonreligious are "outsiders" and second-class citizens, including school staff.

"The district must immediately end Principal Sparkman’s practice of encouraging organizing prayer events at Pascagoula High School. We request an immediate investigation into this situation and appropriate steps be taken to prevent future prayer events organized by school officials. Please inform us in writing of the actions you are taking on this matter."

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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