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Case Challenging Prayers, Chapel Use for Public School Graduation Continues in South Carolina

American Humanist Association’s Legal Center Representing Parents, Students

For Immediate Release

Contact: Maggie Ardiente, mardiente@americanhumanist.org, 202-238-9088 x116
Monica Miller, mmiller@americanhumanist.org, 202-238-9088 x120

(Anderson, SC, Dec. 3, 2013) — U.S. District Judge G. Ross Anderson Jr. is allowing a South Carolina public school system to continue graduation ceremonies in a Christian chapel with Christian prayers while the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center prepares for trial in a case challenging such practices. A pre-trial request to temporarily enjoin these violations of church-state separation practices was denied by Judge Anderson today. The suit outlines how school-sponsored prayers at a graduation ceremony in a chapel on the campus of a Christian university are violations of the U.S. Constitution.

“Despite the decision of Judge Anderson to permit these religious practices to occur before a final adjudication of the merits, they are clearly violative of the constitutional mandate of separation of church and state,” said Monica Miller, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “Previous federal court rulings have been clear on that point.”

After receiving a complaint from the parents of one of the school’s 2013 graduating 5th grade students, Appignani Humanist Legal Center attorneys 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 there would be no changes.

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.


Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, DC, the American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other non-religious Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming philosophy of humanism, which—without beliefs in any 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 for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.