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ACLU Apologizes To American Humanist Association

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The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Mississippi represent Constance McMillen in her lawsuit against the Itawamba County School District charging that the school violated McMillen’s constitutional rights by barring her from attending her high school prom with her girlfriend. Following an initial demand letter from the ACLU calling for the school district to reverse its decision, the school canceled the prom, prompting the lawsuit.

The ACLU of Mississippi serves as the fiscal sponsor of the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition (MSSC), which is organizing an alternative prom. MSSC is a coalition of Mississippi youth dedicated to ending homophobia, transphobia, sexism and all forms of discrimination, and fostering acceptance of students regardless of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity through public education and advocacy. As fiscal sponsor, the ACLU of Mississippi is processing online donations for MSSC for the Second Chance prom and for MSSC’s ongoing work. The ACLU of Mississippi sometimes receives donation offers that are associated with sponsorship requests. In those cases, the ACLU of Mississippi passes along the offers to the advisory board of MSSC which makes the final decision about whether or not to accept those donations and sponsorship offers.

A staff person at the ACLU of Mississippi made an error in judgment in sending an e-mail to the American Humanist Association expressing concerns about accepting its donation and sponsorship offer. To our understanding, MSSC has not made a decision regarding the acceptance of this funding and sponsorship offer. The decision is up to MSSC. The American Humanist Association has been made aware of the error, and the ACLU of Mississippi has expressed its apologies to the association for that error and the sentiments expressed in the e-mail.
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Humanists Feeling Sting of Rejection by ACLU Chapter, Contribution to Alternate Prom Remains Uncertain

-Humanists across the nation are still reeling from a surprising refusal of their offered donation of $20,000 to underwrite an alternate prom replacing one canceled by a local school district after a lesbian student asked that she be allowed to attend with her girlfriend. As reported in today's New York Times, the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi has rejected the assistance of the AHA due to its nontheistic worldview. Said the ACLU spokesperson, "Although we support and understand organizations like yours, the majority of Mississippians tremble in terror at the word 'atheist.' These Southern Baptist types are mainly what makes up the town of Fulton."

With that letter it seemed that the AHA may have earned the distinction of being the first organization to be too controversial for the ACLU. However, the ACLU seems to recognize the shortcomings of these comments, and has since apologized.

"We accept the apology, but we feel that an apology is owed not just to us but to the people of Mississippi," said David Niose, president of the American Humanist Association. "To suggest that the good people of Mississippi are so unenlightened that they can't be accepting and welcoming to the goodwill of a humanist group is insulting to them, not just to us. We are confident that our involvement would have been met with warmth and Southern hospitality."
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