Schools in Greenville County will no longer allow prayer or worship music during graduation ceremonies, after the U.S. District Court of South Carolina ruled in favor of a humanist group.
Students will be prohibited from submitting prayers for staff review, as has been the case in recent years. School members may still pray during their graduation, provided it’s done without the prior knowledge, planning or guidance of school officials. In addition, any prayer conducted by student must not expect or illicit audience participation, according to a court order issued by Bruce Hendricks, a U.S. district judge in Charleston.
In addition, if a ceremony is going to involve a student praying, a disclaimer must be now be issued prior to the event which clearly explains the views expressed by the students do not reflect the policy or position of the school district.
The court sided with the American Humanist Association (AHA), who in 2013 launched a lawsuit in conjunction with parents of a student at Mountain View Elementary School who was unhappy that their fellow student was allowed to lead prayers that were listed on the school program.
While the court previously ruled that the school was no longer allowed to hold graduation ceremonies inside churches or chapels, the parents sought more clarification on the issue of prayer, achieving this latest ruling.
We are thrilled that the court is finally putting an end to flagrant school-sponsored prayers and Christian hymns at public school graduation ceremonies,” said Monica Miller, AHA’s senior counsel and lead attorney said in a statement, according to Greenville News.
“This was a long fight for justice for students who do not wish to encounter government-sponsored religion at their own graduation ceremonies,” Miller added.
The school district added that it was pleased that the courts supported their position, “that students selected to speak at graduations based upon religiously neutral criteria have the right to share their personal stories, even if those include a religious message.”
“We are also pleased that the Court refused to grant AHA’s request to prevent all remotely religious messaging or prayer at School District events,” the spokesperson added.
If it wishes to do so, the district could choose to appeal the ruling to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.