Blog of Rights

Mississippi's "No-No Square" Around the First Amendment

By Brigitte Amiri, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project at 5:07pm

Though you wouldn’t know it from the state's recent activities, the Constitution does apply to Mississippi.

This week, we filed a lawsuit against Mississippi for promoting religious messages in a state-sponsored and state-funded abstinence-only-until-marriage event.  Each May, the Mississippi Department of Human Services hosts several abstinence-only events, including a big summit held at the Jackson Coliseum.  The summit includes various speakers and performers, and thousands of teens and community members attend.  For the past two years, the event has included significant religious proselytizing – a blatant violation of the Constitution’s protections that require the government to neither promote nor prohibit religious activities.  After learning that the May 2008 event featured religious content, we sent a letter to the state asking for its assurance that the May 2009 event would be secular.  Not only did we not get a response, but the constitutional violations at the May 2009 event were even more egregious.

For example, this year the event started with a religious invocation, referencing Jesus Christ and the Lord; it continued with a ten minute sermon by a county judge about the Ten Commandments and God; and it wrapped up with a mime ministry that performed to Christian gospel songs.  While all of these things would be fine at a private event, by individuals in their private capacity, the state cannot sponsor and fund these religious messages, nor can it express a preference for Christianity above all other religions.  You don’t have to take my word for it – the event was videotaped, and you can see part of it here.

Perhaps one of the most unique performances at this year’s summit was a cheerleading team – their cheer was selected by the state as the best abstinence-only cheer, and as a reward they were allowed to perform it at the summit.  The cheer included the quite catchy phrase, “Stop!  Don’t touch me there!  This is my no-no square!”

Perhaps Mississippi has decided to draw a “no-no square” around the First Amendment.  If so, our lawsuit will remind them that they are not above the Constitution.

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