ACLU demands south Mississippi school stop prayers

By Holbrook Mohr/The Associated Press

JACKSON — The American Civil Liberties Union demanded Wednesday that a south Mississippi school stop holding prayers and promoting religious activities at games and other events.

A letter from the ACLU to West Lincoln Attendance Center says the school in Lincoln County, with about 650 students from prekindergarten through 12th grade, violates the U.S. Constitution by incorporating prayer and other religious messages into school functions.

Lincoln County School District Superintendent Terry Brister told The Associated Press that religious activities aren’t allowed at public schools, but he wants to find out if it’s happening and to what extent before commenting further or responding to the ACLU.

The ACLU letter says that “West Lincoln students, faculty, and staff are routinely subjected to official prayer at numerous school events, including student awards ceremonies and banquets, school-day assemblies, teacher meetings, holiday celebrations, sporting events and graduation ceremonies.”

The ACLU letter said the school’s principal and cross-country coach, Jason Case, often leads the prayers.

“In addition to leading students in prayer, he sermonizes during faculty meetings and issues memos with Bible citations, which he encourages faculty to look up, study and follow,” the letter says. “He repeatedly urges members of the school community to model themselves after Jesus, who he claims is ‘the ultimate model of a servant.’”

Case did not immediately respond to a message left Wednesday at the school.

Bear Atwood, legal director of the ACLU of Mississippi, said the organization found out about the situation through a complaint from someone in the community.

“It’s really important for people to understand this is truly about the constitution. It’s about making sure that all children and all religious beliefs are respected,” Atwood said.

The ACLU also claims football coaches and other faculty members lead prayers and that religious “iconography permeates the school” with crosses on classroom doors and walls and a replica of the Ten Commandments on the campus.

The letter said the school district should take immediate steps to stop religious activities and tell the ACLU how it plans to address the issue by Oct. 26, or face the possibility of getting sued.

The ACLU also sent a public records request to the school that seeks a wide range of documents, including emails that refer to prayer or other religious remarks related to school events and agendas.

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Follow Mohr at http://twitter.com/holbrookmohr.