OCEAN SPRINGS, Miss. – Is justice only for those who can afford to pay huge legal bills?
Unfortunately, that’s often the case, as the anti-Christian Freedom From Religion Foundation is well aware of.
The FFRF routinely uses the threat of expensive lawsuits to bully cash-strapped public schools around the nation into removing all references to Christ or Christianity from buildings and curriculum.
Many schools would like to fight back in court, but simply can’t afford it.
The latest example comes from Ocean Springs, Mississippi, where a voluntary back-to-school prayer service had been scheduled for Tuesday at a local elementary school. It would have taken place outside of the regular school year and schedule. It would not have been conducted in front of a captive audience of students. Participation was a matter of free will.
But the FFRF sent a threatening letter to Ocean Springs school district Superintendent Bonita Coleman, imploring the district to cancel the event.
The implication, of course, was that the school’s failure to give the FFRF its way would result in a very expensive lawsuit. The FFRF is very open with that type of financial bullying.
In a recent letter to one school district, for example, the FFRF made sure local school officials realized that it would be cost-prohibitive to defend themselves in court.
It wrote that opposition to an FFRF demand “poses a serious liability problem for the school system, since earlier this year FFRF won a judgment against the Chino Valley Unified School Board in California in a challenge to its unconstitutional religious practices that resulted in an award of more than $200,000 in costs and attorney fees,”
The same strategy worked in Mississippi.
As usual, the FFRF based its argument in the Ocean Springs case on the First Amendment to the Constitution, which says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
The Ocean Springs school board is not Congress, and it was not attempting to establish an official national religion, or even a local one. It was simply offering to host a back-to-school prayer service for the many people of faith in the community who chose to participate.
Of course the FFRF cited court decisions by judges who have, over the years, stretched the Constitution far beyond its original intent by legislating from the bench.
“It is well settled by the courts that public school employees may not lead, direct or encourage students to engage in prayer,” the FFRF wrote to Coleman. “The Supreme Court has continually struck down formal and teacher or school-led prayer in schools.
“Indeed, you, as the school superintendent, are promoting the religious ritual,” the letter went on. “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 U.S. Supreme Court.”
The Ocean Springs school board relented and moved the prayer service to a local church. Coleman announced she would not participate.
There is no indication that the school board backed down because it believed it was on the wrong side of the law. There are all sorts of judges, with all sorts of ideological leanings, in our bizarre legal system, including some who are not hostile to the voluntary exercise of faith in public places.
Who knows if the Ocean Springs district could have shopped and found a conservative judge who would have given them an initially friendly ruling, which would have at least allowed the prayer service to occur while the appeal process dragged out.
The school obviously backed down because it couldn’t afford a legal fight – a fact that the FFRF was more than happy to crow about:
“Coleman indicated to the (Mississippi Press) that the cost to the school district of hiring an attorney to defend its hosting of the event weighed heavily on her mind,” the FFRF happily announced in a press release.
Chalk up another victory for the FFRF bullies, who once again used the all-powerful dollar to impose their will on helpless victims who lack the resources to defend themselves.