Education

Group chastises Moss Point school for ‘religious event’

The Moss Point School District’s superintendent and communications director were singled out in a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation for allegedly participating in what was described as a “religious event” on Jan. 16 at Magnolia Middle School.
The Moss Point School District’s superintendent and communications director were singled out in a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation for allegedly participating in what was described as a “religious event” on Jan. 16 at Magnolia Middle School. Sun Herald File

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is requesting records from the Moss Point School District in a letter that raises alarms about a possible “religious event” at Magnolia Middle School.

The letter, from foundation attorney Sam Grover, is addressed to school district Superintendent Shannon Vincent. The letter says district Communications Director Ja’Leasa Walden booked and advertised an event on Saturday, Jan. 14, that was “ostensibly” in honor of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

Instead, the letter says, Walden’s “personal friend,” a pastor, told the children they should “do God’s work” during a sermon and also “compelled” them to pray. The letter says Walden introduced Vincent at the event as superintendent.

Neither Walden nor Vincent returned telephone calls Monday afternoon from the Sun Herald. Walden sent the Sun Herald and email that said, “The letter has been turned over to the school board attorney for a response.”

The letter says “a concerned parent” contacted the foundation, which works to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state.

“Because the school’s communications director organized and promoted the event, and because other school officials participated in their official capacities,” the letter says, “the school created the appearance that it supported the religious message of this private event.

“We request that the 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 June 16 letter closes with a request for public records filed under the state’s Public Records Act. The foundation requested the following records:

▪  Correspondence and any other communications, including emails and advertisements, about the event between the school and district, the pastor or the event organizers;

▪  records of payment for rent of school facilities for the event;

▪  any policy or rent schedule for district facilities.

Anita Lee: 228-896-2331, @calee99

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