PT: sunday local; with herdhal interview and mug.
By Monique Harrison
ECRU – Is Lisa Herdahl – the Pontotoc County mother who filed a lawsuit against her children’s Ecru school – the victim of religious harassment?
Talk show host Oprah Winfrey attempts to answer that long-standing question in less than an hour on a program set to air Tuesday at 4 p.m. on WTVA-Channel 6 and WMC-Channel 5 on Comcast Cable.
It’s a question that has been debated countless times across Northeast Mississippi since the mother of five school-age children filed a lawsuit against the Pontotoc County School District in December of 1994 challenging student-led prayers over the intercom and Bible classes being taught in both elementary and high school.
The show, which was filmed before the case was heard in U.S. District Court earlier this month, features key players in the Pontotoc school prayer case, which has gotten significant national attention.
Herdahl and her eldest son, 16-year-old Kevin Engle, appear on a panel, along with People for the American Way attorney Elliot Mincberg.
Pontotoc County Citizens for School Prayer Committee chair Pat Mounce, along with the Rev. Doug Jones, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church, defend the cause of the school district on the program. Michael Whitehead, the Kansas City attorney who represented the district, also appeared on the program.
Representatives of the talk show had originally asked Pontotoc County Superintendent Jerry Horton to represent the school district, but Horton declined because he was set to testify on behalf of the district in court.
Mounce said that although she was originally leery about appearing on the show, she felt the school district got a fair shake.
“The title of the show was ‘Community Outcasts,’ so we knew that we were going in on the defense – the community was the enemy,” she said. “But I think we made some good points. We were able to show that there was not harassment. Or what they saw as harassment did not come from the majority of people here. And it did not come from the religious community or from school officials.”
Mincberg said his side also made their points clear.
“Early in the show, I think many in the audience were against us, but as we explained the details of the Herdahl case, their attitude changed,” Mincberg said. “We wanted people to understand that we are not working to have prayer taken out of schools. We simply don’t want those prayers to be forced by a school district or a teacher. In that case, school prayer is wrong.”
The show profiles several other self-proclaimed “Community Outcasts” including:
-Teens who are the product of a biracial marriage.
-An Amish woman who turns her back on her family’s religious traditions.
-A minister who had to fight rumors after his son’s wife contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion.
Mincberg said the show’s introduction is a little confusing.
“They begin by talking about Babe – the pig in that movie,” Mincberg said, referring to the recent movie that stars Richard Cromwell and deals with a pig that thinks it is a sheepdog. “Don’t ask me what that has to do with anything. But, well, it is Oprah. After the whole Babe incident, the show gets better.”