Long Beach mayor, school under fire for prayer at school event

Long Beach mayor, school under fire for prayer at school event

LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - Long Beach's mayor is under fire by a national organization after he led high school students in a prayer at an awards ceremony last month.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation said Mayor George Bass promoted Christianity at the ceremony while acting in an official role. The letter sent to the mayor said 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."

The letter cites the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits government actions that unduly favor one religion over another.

READ BOTH LETTERS FROM THE FREEDOM FROM RELIGION FOUNDATION BELOW

A second letter sent to Superintendent Larry Ramsey says the district invited the mayor to deliver the prayer at the school-sanctioned event, saying the mayor addressed "our Father" in the prayer and ended it with "in Jesus Christ's name, Amen."

"Courts have continually reaffirmed that the First Amendment's religion clauses are meant to protect the religious freedom of all Americans, including minorities. It makes no difference how many people might want prayer or wouldn't be excluded by prayer at school events..." said the letter to the superintendent.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is demanding the district refrain from prayer at school-sponsored events. The group also requests that both Ramsey and Bass reply to their requests, detailing how they plan to remedy this "constitutional violation."

The Foundation's letter to the mayor also cites a letter it says was sent to him on May 2, 2018, in regards to a National Day of Prayer event hosted by the City of Long Beach.

"Leaving religion as a private matter for private citizens is the wisest public policy (and is one of the foundational principles enshrined in our Bill of Rights)." states the letter to Bass.

Additionally, the Foundation asks Ramsey to respond to a letter it says was sent Sept. 21, 2017, regarding religion being promoted in Long Beach schools.

When WLOX reached out to the mayor's office to ask about the letters, the city's community affairs director said they would not be commenting on the recent letter or the one from last year.

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 over a See You at the Pole event 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.

According to its website, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nonprofit membership organization that publishes content and conducts court challenges of violations of the separation between church and state.

Read both letters to Mayor Bass and Superintendent Ramsey below:

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