Some will remember the story the JFP broke back in May about a lawsuit a student brought against Northwest Rankin High School after she was forced to attend a religious event at the school. Well, the student won in federal court, and Northwest Rankin has a brand new policy on keeping religion out of the school.
In his judgement against the school, Judge Carlton Reeves said the school violated the establishment clause of the first amendment when it made attendance mandatory at the April 10, 2013 program.
The school was also told to pay the legal fees of the student, totaling $15,000.
The American Humanist Association released this statement earlier today:
A judgment has been entered by a federal court in a case brought by the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center on behalf of a student at a Rankin County, Mississippi high school challenging the proselytizing religious assemblies it staged for students earlier this year. The lawsuit was filed April 24, 2013 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi against administrators of Northwest Rankin High School in Flowood, MS and the county school district.
The judgment includes an admission of liability by the defendants that they violated the Establishment Clause, the provision of the Constitution that requires separation of church and state. It also requires the school district to comply with a new policy that prohibits future such violations and orders the defendants to pay the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees.
“A lot has been accomplished and I’m pleased with the outcome of the suit,” said Magdalene “Gracie” Bedi, the student plaintiff in the case. “I'm grateful for the school's maturity throughout this ordeal and I look forward to graduating with them on a positive note. No one should have to question their rights in a public school and I think Northwest [Rankin High School] realizes this now.”
Before filing suit, a letter was sent asking school officials to stop the practice, where a student representative of the Pinelake Baptist Church spoke of finding “hope” in “Jesus Christ,” but the assemblies continued with school administrators insisting the assemblies were “student-led and organized.” According to students present, however, those who attempted to leave were prevented from doing so. At the end of the presentation, the speakers led the students in a Christian prayer. Videos captured by students can be found here and here.
“We are pleased that the school’s administrators have admitted that they violated the Constitution and agreed to continuing court oversight to prevent future violations,” said William Burgess, legal coordinator of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “There was clear evidence that these Christian assemblies were endorsed and organized by the school. To continue to deny a constitutional violation had taken place was untenable.”