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Federal Appeal Filed to End Religious Elements in South Carolina Public School’s Graduation Ceremonies

American Humanist Association’s Legal Center Representing Local Family

For Immediate Release


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

(Richmond, VA, Jan. 27, 2014) —The failure of a U.S. District Court judge to stop a South Carolina public elementary school from continuing to include substantial religious elements during graduation ceremonies is being challenged by the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center. Calling the denial of a preliminary injunction request by U.S. District Judge G. Ross Anderson Jr. “nothing more than the court expressing its personal dislike for the case,” AHA’s brief on appeal was filed today with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on behalf of the AHA and a local family.

Administrators of Mountain View Elementary School in Taylors, SC have refused a request to end prayers during future graduation ceremonies and insist on continuing to hold them in the Christian chapel at religiously affiliated North Greenville University, a school with a logo that includes the sectarian phrase “Christ Makes the Difference.” The 69-page appellate brief outlines the legal justifications for stopping the elementary school’s administrators from including planned or supported religious elements in future public school graduation ceremonies.

The appeal also asks that the request denied by Judge Anderson for the plaintiffs to remain anonymous “to protect their safety and privacy” be reversed.

“Previous federal court rulings have been clear that public school graduation ceremonies must be secular in nature to comply with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” said Monica Miller, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “There is no legal reason for the judge to have denied the motion to stop these practices pending the final outcome of the case.”

The appeal reveals many of the same facts contained in the verified complaint, including explicitly Christian prayers given by students during the 2013 graduation ceremony that were solicited and approved by school administrators, and the availability of alternative non-sectarian venues.

The plaintiffs’ brief can be found here. The complaint 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.