The American Civil Liberties Union in conjunction with the ACLU of Mississippi, sent a letter Wednesday to the Lincoln County School District, demanding that that they put a stop stop having prayers and religious activities at games and other school-sponsored events.
The letter was sent via fax and first class mail. It reads:
Re: School-Sponsored Religious Activity at West Lincoln Attendance Center
Dear Superintendent Brister:
We write to express our deep concern regarding West Lincoln Attendance Center’s pervasive
policy and practice of incorporating prayer and other religious messages into myriad school events and
activities. This official practice violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution, which prohibits the government from promoting religious beliefs or exercise.
The federal courts “have been particularly vigilant in monitoring compliance with the
Establislunent Clause” in the public-school context, I because “there are heightened concerns with
protecting freedom of conscience from subtle coercive pressure in the elementary and secondary
public schools.,,2 Accordingly, public schools may not include official prayer or other religious
exercise and messages in school events and activities]
Despite these longstanding and well-settled principles of law, the ACLU of Mississippi has
received information that West Lincoln students, faculty, and staff are routinely subj ected to official
prayer at numerous school events, including student awards ceremonies and banquets, school-day
assembli es, teacher meetings, holiday celebrations, sporting events, and graduation ceremonies. For
example, we understand that as recently as this month, school officials have opened football games with prayer. Last month, for instance, Principal Case participated in a prayer at the school ‘s homecoming pep rally. At many of these events, Principal Jason Case leads the prayer himself and, in his capacity as the coach for the cross-country team, he regularly leads students in pre-practice prayer.
Principal Case is well aware that these practices are unlawful but willfully continues to flout
Indeed, we understand that he actively fosters a school atmosphere that isoverwhelmingly religious, from his interactions with teachers, staff, and students to the physicalenvironment in which students learn. 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. He repeatedly urges members of the school community to model themselves afterJesus, who he claims is ” the ultimate model of a servant.” Religious iconography permeates theschool, including crosses placed conspicuously on classroom doors and walls, the Christian flag, a large “prayer poster,” and a replica of the Ten Commandments.
Other school officials also promote religion and lead students in praye r, including football
coach Willie Brumfield (who often brandishes a Bible whi le walking around the school) and the
archery team coach. Another football coach, Luke Addison, has offered an invocation for several
years in a row during the school’s annual assembly in honor of Veterans Day. Additionally, the
Veterans Day assemblies have featured guest speakers who deliver religious remarks to students.
Further, we have learned that teachers and administrators incorporate official prayer into many classes
on a daily basis, including before meals and exams. These are just a few examples of West Lincoln’s
rampant promoti on and imposition of prayer, which plainly violates the constitutional rights of
students, parents, faculty, staff, and other members of the school community at West Lincoln
As the Supreme Court has explained, “[s)chool sponsorship of a religious message is
impermissible because it sends the ancillary message to … [the school community) who are
nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an
accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political
To avoid further legal action regarding these religious practices, we thus request that the
District immediately take steps to ensure that school officials no longer incorporate prayer into school
events and otherwise cease impermissibly promoting reli gion to students, staff, and faculty. Please let
us know no later than October 26, 2012, how you plan to address these matters.
In addition, to further our investigation of these senous constitutional violations, please
provide the public records identified in the attached request no later than 7 business days from the
receipt of this letter. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like to discuss
this letter or the public records request further.
Ms. Bear Atwood, Esq.
Superintendent Terry Brister said in response that religious activities are not allowed at public schools, and that he wants to investigate whether it is happening and to what extent before commenting further or responding to the ACLU’s accusations.
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