By Monique Harrison
PONTOTOC – A school prayer rally will be held Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Pontotoc Court Square.
The rally, sponsored by the Pontotoc County Citizens for School Prayer Committee, comes just 15 days before a federal district court judge is set to hear a lawsuit challenging student-led prayer and elective Bible classes at North Pontotoc Attendance Center in Ecru.
“We’re doing this because we want to show support going into this school prayer fight,” said Pat Mounce, president of the sponsoring committee. “We want the citizens of this county to be well aware that this court date is coming up. The county as a whole – the superintendent and the school board – have been very committed to this (cause). We want to thank them and encourage them.”
On March 4, the court will consider a lawsuit filed in 1994 by Ecru mother Lisa Herdahl, the Mississippi American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way. Herdahl said her five school-age children had endured ridicule after they refused to participate in the religious activities that had been routine at the K-12 school for years.
U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and atheist-turned-evangelist Bill Murray will serve as keynote speakers at the event.
Murray is the son of atheist activist Madalyn Murray O’Hair. It was a 1963 Supreme Court ruling on a lawsuit O’Hair filed on behalf of her son that led to the banning of public school prayer.
Murray’s October appearance at a series of weekend rallies helped to raise about $30,000 to be used to pay the school district’s legal fees. About $20,000 of that sum was raised in one night, with an estimated 4,000 people in attendance.
Mounce said participants in Saturday’s rally will also hear a plea for money.
“Pontotoc has been very generous, but the bills are high,” Mounce said.
A chunk of those legal fees have been paid by area churches.
A number of out-of-state participants are expected at Saturday’s rally.
“We met a lot of people at the National Affairs Briefing in Memphis,” Mounce said. “They were very interested in what we were doing and were eager to show their support.”
About 1,200 Pontotoc residents attended last month’s briefing, which was a gathering of Christian conservatives from around the Southeast.