Atheist Group May Sue Mississippi School District for Pastor Speaking at Mandatory Teacher Event

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By Michael Gryboski , Christian Post Reporter
August 27, 2014|1:25 pm
An empty classroom is seen in this undated file photo. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

An empty classroom is seen in this undated file photo.

A Washington, D.C.-based atheist organization has sent a letter to a Mississippi school district expressing concern about a mandatory faculty event that featured a Christian pastor.

The American Humanist Association's Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter Monday to the superintendent of Jackson Public School District.

Of specific concern for AHA was a mandatory teacher convocation held earlier this month that included a Christian pastor and several remarks the group dubbed "religious proselytization."

"This letter serves as an official notice of the unconstitutional activity and demands that the School District terminate this and any similar illegal activity immediately," wrote Monica Miller, Esq. of AHA.

"To avoid legal action, we kindly ask that you notify us in writing within two weeks of receipt of this letter setting forth the steps you will take to rectify this constitutional infringement."

In an interview with The Christian Post, Miller explained that her organization became aware of the convocation courtesy of a teacher who attended the convocation.

"A School District teacher contacted our office regarding the convocation. He wishes to remain anonymous at this time," said Miller. "The School District has yet to formally respond to our letter. We asked that they respond within two weeks so they still have a bit of time."

Miller also told CP that this went beyond merely being offended at religious expression and was "absolutely a constitutional concern."

"The Supreme Court and lower federal courts have made it absolutely clear that prayers are not allowed at public school-sponsored events, and especially not at mandatory events," Miller asserted.

"In Warnock v. Archer … the Eighth Circuit explicitly held that a school's practice of including prayers at mandatory teacher-training meetings was unconstitutional. The court reasoned that the practices were 'constitutionally infirm not because they offended [the teacher] but because they endorsed religion.'"

Some have taken to the defense of Jackson Public School District, including attorney Steve Crampton of the American Center for Constitutional Rights.

Crampton explained to the publication Onenewsnow.com that "hurt feelings" are insufficient to "constitute a constitutional injury."

"And that would be one of the first and most important arguments raised in defense in any legal action that might fall out from this situation," said Crampton.

"I hope that the community will stand up and this school board will stand up against this kind of intimidation tactic."

Sherwin Johnson, executive director of Public and Media Relations with Jackson Public, provided CP with comments on the matter.

"The JPS legal department is reviewing the letter and will respond appropriately as needed," stated Johnson to CP on Wednesday morning.

"The annual Convocation program is a celebratory event intended to invigorate employees with enthusiasm, pride, and excitement for the beginning of a new school year."

 

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