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Use of Christian University's Chapel for Public Elementary School Graduation Results in Lawsuit

American Humanist Association’s Legal Center Acts on Behalf of South Carolina Parents

For Immediate Release

Contact: Maggie Ardiente, mardiente@americanhumanist.org, 202-238-9088 x116
Monica Miller. mmiller@americanhumanist.org, 202-238-9088 x 120

(Washington, DC, Sept. 11, 2013) — The American Humanist Association has filed suit in U. S. District Court to stop a South Carolina public elementary school from continuing to hold graduation ceremonies in a chapel on the campus of a Christian university and ending the inclusion of school-sponsored prayers at future events.

“The federal courts have been clear that events like these violate the constitutional principle of separation of church and state,” said Monica Miller, an attorney and legal consultant with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “Any event sponsored by a public school must not violate that principle.”

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.

The lawsuit can be found here. The original letter sent to Superintendent W. Burke Royster and Principal Jennifer Gibson can be found here.

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The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington D.C., its work is extended through more than 175 local chapters and affiliates across the United States. Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms a responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.

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