AHA Files Suit Over Elementary Graduation in Chapel


The Appignani Humanist Legal Center, part of the American Humanist Association, has filed a federal lawsuit to prevent Mountain View Elementary School in Taylors, South Carolina, from continuing to hold their elementary school graduations in a Christian chapel and include prayers in the ceremony.

After receiving a complaint from the parents of one of the school’s graduating 5th grade students, the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center on June 10, 2013 sent a letter to the superintendent and principal of Mountain View Elementary School in Taylors, SC, objecting to the unconstitutional nature of the ceremony. The letter warned of a possible lawsuit if corrective steps were not forthcoming, but the school district responded that no changes would be forthcoming.

The graduation was held on May 30, 2013 at North Greenville University. The official schedule of events called for prayers on two separate occasions as part of the ceremony, which took place in a large Christian worship space, adorned with crosses, stained glass and other religious elements. The university’s logo includes the sectarian phrase “Christ Makes the Difference.”

The suit reveals that prayers given by students during the 2013 graduation ceremony were solicited and approved by school administrators and were explicitly Christian. The suit also makes clear that other non-sectarian venues are available for future ceremonies, including the elementary school itself, as well as other nearby public schools and community centers.

You can read the legal complaint here.

Comments

  1. iplon says

    “Look, if we tell them what they can and can’t say in their public role as a student at a public school in their public speech at a public event before a public audience, that would violate their private speech rights!”

    Please, go on!

  2. matty1 says

    It must be tricky for job adverts when they put ‘seeking recent graduates’ and get people who haven’t even finished school applying.

  3. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne says

    Somewhere, I have pictures of my graduation from nursery school (pre-Kindergarten), complete with caps and gowns. And that was 50 years ago.

  4. jnorris says

    For public schools that want to have a religious ceremony as part of the graduation, there is a simple solution. Its call a baccalaureate. The parents arrange for a local church, Christian of course and not ever Catholic, to host all the grads who want to attend. Then everyone can pray, sing, roll on the floor, and speck in tongues to their little hearts content. The next day all assemble for the graduation.

    BTW, the baccalaureate could even be held in the school auditorium the night before graduation if the facility is rented by parents and there is absolutely no administration involvement.

  5. loren says

    The AHA is, IMO, on much stronger ground with the prayers than the chapel location.

    At the end of the complaint is some written correspondence between the AHA and the school district. In support of its chapel argument, the AHA cites a single decision from another federal circuit, which itself expressly states that it’s a narrow decision largely grounded in the specific details of that graduation ceremony in that church.

    In the earlier case, the graduation was held in an actual church sanctuary, with a giant cross in the front and Bibles in the pews, and the lobby had not only lots of Christian decorations and whatnot, but there were also church members standing around to hand out literature and sell church stuff.

    In the Greenville case, the chapel is missing most of that. There aren’t even pews; just chairs. The school’s correspondence says they’ll remove or cover up any iconography if they use the facility again. And the stained glass? Here’s a picture of the one window I could find online: http://nguskyliner.net/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/prayerchapel_p1.jpg

    To be clear, I’m not saying the chapel complaint is a frivolous claim or that it’s invariably doomed to fail. I’m just pointing out that they’re making a relatively weak argument, without a lot of binding legal precedent to fall back on.

    Meanwhile, the prayer complaint is considerably stronger, and the school district seems to be trying to excuse that by arguing that the district isn’t necessarily endorsing what the kids say. That won’t fly. Also, their argument that kids are allowed to deliver a potentially religious message if selected neutrally is rather undercut by the fact that their comments are explicitly labeled “Prayer” in the graduation program.

  6. Freeman says

    I want to know who to sue over having to vote for government representatives in a church. Irritating. There is a public school next door but we have to vote in a church.

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