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Humanist Group Files Motion of Contempt Against Public School for Prayer

For Immediate Release


Merrill Miller, merrillmiller@americanhumanist.org, 202-238-9088 ext. 105

Monica Miller, mmiller@americanhumanist.org, 202-238-9088 ext. 120

(Washington, DC, May 7, 2014)—The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center has filed a motion of contempt against the Rankin County School District in Mississippi and its administrators for including a prayer in a school ceremony. This school-sponsored prayer violates a federal judge’s ruling requiring the school district to comply with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

In April, the school district hosted an awards ceremony for students that included a formal prayer delivered by a Christian pastor. The prayer was Christian in nature and made a specific reference to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Students were asked to stand and then bow their heads for the prayer. Students were also told to wear “church attire” to the event, which was held days before Easter Sunday. The American Humanist Association contends that the public school district’s actions unconstitutionally endorsed religion and coerced students into participating in a religious observance.

“Public schools are not in the business of prayer. Specifically making time for prayer in assemblies and award ceremonies threatens our nation’s constitutional principles and disregards the rights of our children,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association.

“Precedent set by both the U.S. Supreme Court and numerous federal courts clearly affirms that prayer in public schools violates the constitutional requirement of separation of church and state and infringes upon the religious liberty of non-adherents,” said Monica Miller, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “It’s shocking that the school would so blatantly violate the Establishment Clause and the rights of its students.”

In April 2013, the American Humanist Association filed a lawsuit on behalf of local high school students against the Rankin County School District for sponsoring mandatory student events that contained religious proselytizing. In November, a federal court ruled that the school’s actions violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.    

The memorandum of law can be viewed 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.