Defying Court Order, Mississippi’s Northwest Rankin High School Forces Christian Prayer
A Mississippi public school district openly defied a federal court order by forcing public school students attending a non-mandatory assembly to participate in a Christian prayer.
The atheist group American Humanist Association (AHA) has filed a motion of contempt against the Rankin County School District for flouting a federal judge’s order banning unconstitutional Christian prayer at public school assemblies, the Associated Press reports.
Last November, the US District Court in Jackson agreed with AHA that prayer in public schools violates the constitutional principle of separation of church and state. AHA had sued on behalf of a Northwest Rankin High School student who was forced to attend multiple school assemblies at which local religious leaders delivered lectures on Christian mythology and recited prayers to the Abrahamic deity figure “God” and the Christian “savior” figure Jesus Christ.
But in an affidavit filed in the same federal court, a student now alleges that a countywide honors program on April 17 featured an opening prayer by local pastor Rob Gill of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Brandon.
“The prayer was Christian in nature and made a specific reference to the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” said AHA in a statement. “Students were asked to stand and bow their heads for the prayer. Students were also told to wear ‘church attire’ to the event.”
“The American Humanist Association contends that the public school district’s actions unconstitutionally endorsed religion and coerced students into participating in a religious observance,” the statement added.
The 17-year-old student, identified by the initials “M.B.” in the affidavit, “felt incredibly embarrassed, humiliated and frustrated.”
AHA is seeking civil contempt fines of $1,000 to be levied on the school district and Northwest Rankin Principal Charles Frazier. The atheist group, which is based in Washington, DC, also wants $20,000 fines for any future violations of the federal court order.
Mississippi state lawmakers attempted to circumvent the Constitution by passing a 2013 law allowing student-led prayer in public schools. But because a pastor led the proselytizing during the April assembly, the new law is not applicable.
Mississippi is known as one of the most religious and conservative states in America, and its public education system often reflects those values. Students are required by law, for example, to be taught that gay sex is an “unnatural crime” and that sexual intercourse is only acceptable between a married man and woman, beliefs originating in the Old Testament of the Bible.
According to a recent Gallup poll, 61 percent of Mississippi residents said they were “very religious.”
Tagged american humanist association, Establishment Clause, Mississippi, Northwest Rankin High School, Rankin County School District, school prayer, separation of church and state, St. Mark's United Methodist Church Brandon