Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

Lawsuit: Mississippi High School Forced Students to Attend Christian Assembly

A public high school in Mississippi allegedly forced students to attend assemblies at which they were shown a Christian video and subjected to preaching about Jesus Christ.

The Raw Story reports that Northwest Rankin High School in Flowood, just northwest of Jackson, held at least three mandatory assemblies led by a local church official at which students were lectured about Christian mythology and about “finding hope in Jesus.” Students were also allegedly shown a video laced with Christian mythology and containing messages about “overcoming personal hardships through Jesus Christ.”

“Before Jesus came, innocent blood had to be shed for our sins,” a church official allegedly told students. “There had to be an animal that was sacrificed to atone for our sin. There had to be innocent blood. So Jesus came and he was the innocent blood because he lived a perfect life.”

According to a lawsuit filed by the American Humanist Association (AHA), the assemblies ended with Christian prayer and teachers blocked the exits to prevent students from leaving. One student who was offended by what was happening made a video recording of the assembly.

WAFB reports that the AHA lawsuit identified the the church official who spoke about “finding hope in Jesus” as a member of the Pinelake Baptist Church, which has several locations in the area.

The Rankin County School District issued a statement denying that the assemblies were mandatory.

“Our students have the freedom to organize student-led and planned meetings and the assembly in question was student led and organized,” the district claimed.

But William Burgess, legal coordinator for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, disputes this.

“It is clear that these assemblies are put on by the school itself,” Burgess said. “They were staged in a school room, during the school day and the school sent an email to teachers telling them that students were required to attend.”

“As the Supreme Court has made clear, when a school sponsors an event, the religious speech of speakers, including students or other private parties, is attributable to the school and therefore subject to the Establishment Clause.”

The Establishment Clause of the US Constitution prohibits government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” It bars the establishment of an official state religion and also prohibits the government from favoring any one religion over another, or from favoring religion over non-religion and vice versa.

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