George County

George County schools criticized by national group for putting Christian cross on signs

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Sun Herald has been breaking news stories in Coastal Mississippi since 1884, first with newspaper and now with video and sunherald.com. We cover the lower six counties of Harrison, Hancock, Jackson, George, Stone and Pearl River counties.
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Sun Herald has been breaking news stories in Coastal Mississippi since 1884, first with newspaper and now with video and sunherald.com. We cover the lower six counties of Harrison, Hancock, Jackson, George, Stone and Pearl River counties.

The George County School District has come under fire from a national anti-religion organization after posting signs with cross imagery on school properties.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation based in Madison, Wisconsin, sent a letter to the district on July 26 asking that the signs be removed for being a “constitutional violation.”

The signs contain the district’s 2019-20 school year theme of “Purpose, Passion and Pride” next to a large cross, with “George County Rebels” and “#GCSTRONG” underneath.

“It is well settled that public schools may not advance, prefer or promote religion,” FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to Superintendent Pam Touchard. “Such displays violate this well-established constitutional principle.”

Touchard responded to what she called “threats” to the signs in a long post on the George County Times’ Facebook page. “It seems that there is a discriminatory factor occurring against our school district in automatically making threats and accusations without gathering the facts,” she said.

She said George County is “predominantly Christian faith based” and agreed the cross is a historic Christian symbol but added “likewise, it represents: life and protection.”

She explained in detail how the theme was chosen this year and in previous years, none of which contained overtly religious wording or themes.

“We should all live with a purpose... we aren’t telling anyone what their purpose is; we just want everyone to live purposefully.”

Grover quoted a 1995 legal opinion that said “display of the cross alone could not reasonably be taken to have any secular point.”

He said, “religious displays alienate non-Christian and nonreligious students, parents, teachers and members of the public.”

The FFRF says it is a nonprofit that promotes the separation of church and state, a legal concept upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court since the 1800s. The group also educates the public on matters of non-theism, or non-belief in one God.

Since its founding in the late 1970s, the group has filed many lawsuits over the use of religion by public entities.

The George County school board in July approved its first appointed superintendent, Former George County High School Principal Wade Whitney, after the Mississippi Legislature in 2016 passed a bill requiring all superintendents be appointed.

Lauren Walck has been in journalism on the Gulf Coast for 10 years, and she’s the Sun Herald’s senior news editor and a regional growth specialist. She is a native of Mobile, Alabama, and an alumna of Louisiana State University.
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