Education

Biloxi School District appeases freedom from religion group

The Biloxi School District says it has made changes in response to demands made by the Freedom From Religion Foundation that school officials do not participate in or promote religious events.
The Biloxi School District says it has made changes in response to demands made by the Freedom From Religion Foundation that school officials do not participate in or promote religious events. ttisbell@sunherald.com File

The Biloxi School District says it has made changes — in response to a complaint made by a national freedom-from-religion advocacy group — to ensure school officials do not participate in or promote religious events.

Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national organization committed to separation of church and state, contacted the school district in late October after a “concerned community member” told them administrators at both Biloxi Junior High and Biloxi High School promoted religious events over the schools’ public address systems.

The foundation also notified the district some teachers may be actively organizing and participating in religious events and clubs on campus.

Both instances violate the separation of church and state, which is outlined in U.S. Supreme Court rulings, said Sam Grover, an attorney with the foundation.

“The district has an obligation under the law to make certain that subsidized teachers do not inculcate religion .... Federal courts have summarily rejected arguments that voluntariness excuses a constitutional violation,” Grover said.

The foundation requested the district take action to “ensure its employees understand and respect their constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion while acting in their official capacities.”

Biloxi School District Board Attorney Edward F. Donovan said school board members reviewed the complaint and school officials investigated the matter.

“I assure you that the issues raised were given due and serious attention by the board,” Donovan said in a letter to the foundation.

“Those responsible for the delivery of announcements at the junior high and high school have been directly counseled by the superintendent to reinforce their awareness of the need to absolutely avoid announcements which promote any particular religious beliefs, prayer gatherings or any other activity which could be construed as the promotion of any sect or religion,” he said.

Donovan said, “I am able to report that the school district administration has the support of the school board to take whatever steps are necessary for all teachers, coaches and the administrative staff to know the importance of maintaining a fully neutral stance on the topic of religion to include religious expression within the classroom as well as at extracurricular events.”

Grover said in an email Thursday morning the foundation received a “satisfactory response” from the school district and considers the matter resolved.

Justin Vicory: 228-896-2326, @justinvicory

  Comments