(Washington D.C., July 19, 2019) -- The U.S. District Court of South Carolina ruled in favor of the American Humanist Association (AHA) in its longstanding lawsuit against Greenville County School District over school-sponsored prayers, Christian hymns, and the use of religious venues at public school graduations. The order, issued Thursday by Judge Bruce Hendricks, is the culmination of a six-year court battle between the AHA and the school district. In 2017, the court also ruled in the AHA’s favor that the district’s use of a Christian chapel for graduation ceremonies violates the Establishment Clause and ordered further discovery and briefing on the prayer issue.
“We are thrilled that the court is finally putting an end to flagrant school-sponsored prayers and Christian hymns at public school graduation ceremonies,” said Monica Miller, AHA senior counsel and lead attorney in the case. “This was a long fight for justice for students who do not wish to encounter government-sponsored religion at their own graduation ceremonies.”
The American Humanist Association’s lawsuit commenced in 2013, challenging the district’s two separate graduation practices of holding elementary graduation ceremonies in a Christian chapel, and including prayers and Christian music in ceremonies district-wide. After a successful appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding preliminary motions, the Fourth Circuit reassigned the case to a new judge upon finding the original judge to be biased against the AHA. In 2015, the District Court held that graduation prayers delivered prior to 2013 violated the Establishment Clause and issued a narrow injunction on future graduation prayers. The District Court, however, ignored the AHA’s second claim regarding the Christian chapel practice.
The American Humanist Association filed a second successful appeal to the Fourth Circuit, which overturned the 2015 ruling. On remand, the District Court ruled in AHA’s favor on both claims. In 2017, the court sided with AHA on the chapel issue, and yesterday, the court sided with AHA on the prayer issue and expanded its original injunction order.
“The school district subjected countless students to school-sponsored prayers on what should otherwise be a celebratory and inclusive occasion for all students, religious or not,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the AHA.
The American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other nontheistic Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming worldview of humanism, which—without beliefs in gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity.
Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation and the Herb Block Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.
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