Proposed Miss. Statute Menaces COFO Plans

A bill has been introduced in the Mississippi Legislature which would require all schools in the state to be licensed by a country superintendent of education. There is little doubt among civil rights workers here and in Mississippi that the bill is aimed directly at the freedom schools planned for this summer by the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO).

The bill was introduced April 15 and is now in the Education Committee of the Legislature. "If the bill passes, specific measures on COFO's part will have to be mapped out, but there is no chance that the freedom school idea will by abandoned," COFO official Robert Weil said yesterday.

Local organizers of the COFO project, which will send more than a thousand Northern students into Mississippi this summer, had no information on the proposed law or its possible effects.

The law provides that the country superintendent of education shall issue a license only if a school "is in fact for bona fide educational purposes," if it "does not intend to counsel and encourage disobedience to the laws of the State of Mississippi," and if the "conduct" of the school "is in the public interest."

Persons conducting a school without a license or teaching in one would be guilty of a misdemeanor. The law imposes a fine of not less than $100 nor more than $500 and/or imprisonment for not less than 30 days nor more than six months.

Early Test Case

Weil said COFO officials feel the bill "is almost certainly unconstitutional one way or another." If it passes, "the trick will probably be to get an early test case set up," added.

According to Weil, the Legislature has passed "a seemingly endless series of anti-civil rights bills" in the last two months. One prohibits picketing. Another gives added powers to the state highway police.