An atheist group has accused a Mississippi school of promoting religion because of an event held in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) on school grounds.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter on June 16 to Magnolia Middle School, demanding they hand over records of communication and payment after the atheist group caught wind of a Youth Summit event held at the school in honor of MLK. The event took place on a Saturday, Jan. 14, and allegedly involved a sermon during which FFRF said the students were “compelled to pray.” FFRF also alleged that the school’s Communications Director, Jaleasa Walden, acted as head of the Youth Summit. Students were not, however, compelled to attend.
“A concerned parent contacted us to report that in the lead up to the event, Jaleasa Walden was acting as both the head of the Youth Summit as well as the Communications Director for Moss Point School District,” read FFRF’s letter addressed to Dr. Shannon Vincent, the school’s superintendent. The letter further alleged that the pastor involved in the Youth Summit was a personal friend of Walden, that Walden organized and booked the space, and that Vincent was introduced at the event as the school’s superintendent.
FFRF argued the school’s involvement in the religious Youth Summit created the appearance that the school promoted religion, which FFRF said is a violation of the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment. However, no student was forced to attend and all in attendance had to obtain tickets to go. The event was privately funded by the Coastwide Martin Luther King Jr. Committee. It is also worth noting that Martin Luther King Jr. was a pastor himself.
“We request that Moss Point School District employees refrain from sponsoring religious events while acting in their official capacities in the future, and that you ensure outside religious groups do not receive Special treatment when renting school facilities for private events,” the letter added. “Please notify us in writing of the steps you take to remedy this matter.”
The school board’s attorney is expected to send a response to FFRF’s letter, according to a report from the Sun Herald.
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