Freedom From Religion group forces move of Ocean Springs back-to-school prayer service

A community-wide, back-to-school prayer service set for Tuesday had to be moved from an Ocean Springs elementary school after a national group sent the district a cease-and-desist letter.

Ocean Springs superintendent Bonita Coleman received a letter Monday afternoon from an attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation — a Madison, Wisconsin-based group which focuses on the separation of church and state.

The letter, obtained by The Mississippi Press through a Freedom of Information request, called the Ocean Springs back-to-school prayer scheduled for Oak Park Elementary Tuesday evening a “blatant violation of the Establishment Clause and an impermissible event for OSSD to host.”…

…”The event is school-sponsored and school-promoted,” Markert wrote. “Indeed you, as superintendent, are promoting the religious ritual. It does not matter that this event occurs outside normal school hours because prayers at other after-school events such as football games and graduations have been found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.”

Rather than engage in a court battle over the issue, Coleman and Rev. M.J. Kirby at St. Paul United Methodist Church both said the back-to-school prayer service has been moved to First Baptist Church in downtown Ocean Springs. Coleman said she will not participate.