The ACLU has declined a $20,000 donation from the American Humanist Association which the group offered to fund an alternative prom open to all students, including lesbian teen Constance McMillen, whose story made international news after her school canceled its prom rather than allow Constance to attend with a female date.
“Although we support and understand organizations like yours, the majority of Mississippians tremble in terror at the word ‘atheist,’ ” Jennifer Carr, the fund-raiser for the A.C.L.U of Mississippi, wrote in an e-mail message to Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the humanist group. According to Matthew Sheffield, a spokesman for the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition, the organization arranging the event, the A.C.L.U. of Mississippi did not have authority to decline the gift. “We asked someone at the A.C.L.U. to assist us in handling all the donations, and that person told them we were not interested and that is not true,” he said. Mr. Sheffield said that after getting answers to a few questions, their board would decide whether to accept the gift. The alternate prom is scheduled for May 8. Regarding the A.C.L.U. move, Ms. Carr wrote to Mr. Speckhardt: “Our staff has been talking a lot about your donation offer and have found ourselves in a bit of a conflict. We have fears that your organization sponsoring the prom could stir up even more controversy.”
The ACLU says that the donation offer came with attached conditions that organizers would have trouble meeting, something that the American Humanists denied. Tonight Constance and her girlfriend will attend a private prom.
UPDATE: Since the above-linked NYT story was published, the ACLU has posted a notice of apology to the American Humanists, saying it was up to the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition whether the donation would be accepted or not. The ACLU also apologized for the wording in the email sent to the atheist group, saying their staffer’s message does not “reflect the views of our organization in any way.”