Mayor-led prayer at student awards ceremony on coast draws rebuke

Published 11:32 am Saturday, June 9, 2018

LONG BEACH, Miss. (AP) — A national organization says the mayor of a coastal Mississippi city violated the constitution when he led high school students in a prayer last month.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation makes the accusation in a letter to Long Beach Mayor George Bass.

WLOX-TV reports that the letter says Bass acted in his official government role when he led students in prayer at an awards ceremony. It says the prayer “sends an official message of endorsement of religion over non-religion and Christianity over all other faiths, that excludes many Long Beach residents, including some of the students being awarded.”

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The letter cites the First Amendment clause forbidding laws “respecting an establishment of religion.”

The foundation asks Bass, and the local school district, to specify steps that will be taken to address the foundation’s concerns.

A city official declined comment when contacted by WLOX.

Last year, the foundation sent a letter to school officials in Moss Point after a youth summit honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was held at Moss Point High on a Saturday. In 2016, Biloxi Schools received a letter from the organization about possible promotion of religion at events held at two Biloxi schools. A community-wide prayer service held before school starts each year in Ocean Springs also was brought to the attention of the Foundation in 2016, causing the event to be moved to a nearby church.