Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

Mississippi school district removes religious displays

Vol. 36 No. 04 May 2019

A Mississippi school district has removed unconstitutional religious iconography from its schools, following a recommendation from FFRF.

A Lee County Schools community member reported to FFRF multiple displays promoting religion in areas of Saltillo Elementary School frequented by students and community members on school business. One such exhibit featured a Christian cross hung above the door to an administrator’s office. Multiple school administrators were displaying similar crosses and other religious items, including a sign reading “why worry when you can pray,” at their desks. Additionally, a painting was exhibited at the school that includes a quote from the bible verse, Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you . . .”

It is well-settled law that public schools may not endorse religion, FFRF reminded the district in a letter of complaint.

“We write to ensure that district employees cease impermissibly endorsing their personal religious beliefs through religious displays on district property,” FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote in his letter to the district’s attorney. “Any Latin crosses or other displays promoting religion must be removed from areas of the school frequented by students or members of the public.”

Lee County Schools has since indicated that the displays will be removed from school property. FFRF commends the district on taking swift action to remove these displays and for providing guidance to teachers on their constitutional obligations to remain neutral on matters of religion.

The district’s pledge to take down the religious iconography has subsequently invited overblown criticism from some members of the community who interpret the district’s enforcement of the law as an attack on faith. Some have conflated FFRF’s citing of legal precedent barring these sorts of displays with the protected individual rights of teachers to wear a cross necklace.

“Teachers are allowed to wear personal religious necklaces. Neither FFRF’s letter nor the district’s communication to its employees said otherwise,” Grover points out. “It appears that the district, like FFRF, is concerned about government employees using their official positions to promote religion to students and members of the community. Religious displays like the ones complained of in FFRF’s letter violate the religious freedom of each and every Lee County Schools community member.”