ACLU, Lin. Co. schools still in talks

Published 8:00 pm Sunday, October 28, 2012

     The Lincoln County School District has garnered a few extra days to hammer out a plan explaining how it will stop unlawful school prayers at West Lincoln Attendance Center.

     In a letter earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi had originally given the Lincoln County School District until Oct. 26, last Friday, to address what the ACLU called a “pervasive policy” of violating a Constitutional bar on the promotion of religion by state and federal officials.

     However, Friday afternoon the ACLU of Mississippi’s Legal Director Bear Atwood said the school has been cooperative, and she expects talks to continue through this week.

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     “We are definitely working to come up with a plan to ensure the school doesn’t violate the Establishment Clause and that everyone’s Constitutional rights are protected,” she said.

     Atwood wouldn’t elaborate on what this plan would look like.

     Lincoln County Superintendent Terry Brister couldn’t be reached for comment.

     The ACLU has alleged numerous First Amendment violations at West Lincoln by administrators and teachers. Brister and West Lincoln Principal Jason Case have both acknowledged as true some of the ACLU’s charges but denied others.

     Atwood wouldn’t say whether she believes dialogue with the district will yield the results she wants but did comment on the tenor of the conversation thus far.

     “They’ve been very receptive to talking about the First Amendment violations,” Atwood said. “I think they want to comply with the law. We’ve had very productive talks.”

     She did compliment the district in its efforts to comply with a public records request the ACLU made seeking more information about possible Constitutional violations in the district.

     “They’ve been very cooperative with supplying the records we’ve requested,” Atwood said. “We understand it may take a few more days to get everything together.”

     However, even as Lincoln County administrators seem willing and ready to comply with what the school district’s attorney had advised is current law, some area residents feel more confrontational.

     The Rev. Paul Jabour, of Beech Grove Baptist Church in Copiah County and the Church at Brookhaven, plans to hold rally on Friday, Nov. 2 at 5:30 p.m. on the sidewalk in front of the Lincoln County/Brookhaven Government Complex.

     “Freedom of speech is for everyone, not just atheists,” Jabour said, criticizing the ACLU as anti-Christian.

     However, the ACLU does not claim to advocate for atheism and instead describes itself as on the side of religious liberty for all.

     “All families, regardless of faith, should be able to participate in the school community,” said Atwood in a press release.    

     Jabour disagrees.

     “Their definition of religion is diametrically opposed to mine,” he said. “They’re not on the side of religious freedom at all. That’s an oxymoron”

     He said the right to pray can’t be curtailed by the ACLU or the country’s judges.

     “This is a God-given right and men in black robes don’t have the right to take that away,” Jabour said. “The ACLU does not have the right to give us a list of words we’re not allowed to speak.”

     Jabour said he’s spoken to a handful of pastors about Friday’s rally and hopes for a strong turnout.

     Said Jabour, “My hope is we don’t have room on the sidewalks to house everybody.”