A U.S. district court in Mississippi has ordered a school district in that state to stop promoting Christianity during school events, fining the district $7,500 for being in "contempt."
According to Heather Clark of Christian News Network, the American Humanist Association sent a letter to the Northwest Ranking High School in Flowood, Miss., after it found out that someone from Pinelake Baptist Church participated in a student-organized assembly two years ago. That assembly featured a video that dealt with various teen problems; two of the teens in the video credited Jesus Christ in overcoming their struggles.
"It has hard to imagine a more blatant violation of the Establishment Clause than the one complained of herein," AHA wrote in its letter. "The law prohibiting this type of endorsement and coercion is well-settled. As such, not only will the school, in its official capacity, be liable for this constitutional infringement pursuant to 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983, but the school officials responsible for the event will be personally liable too, in their individual capacities."
Christian News Network reported that the district defended the assembly, saying it was organized and hosted by students. AHA contended that it was mandatory for all students.
"AHA moved forwarded with filing the suit on behalf of a student who attends Northwest Rankin High School, and the district agreed to settle with AHA, signing a consent decree not promote any religion during school events," Clark wrote.
However, Clark reported that other events took place within the district, including an awards ceremony at the high school that had a prayer and where an elementary school principal advised fifth grade teachers to walk students past Gideon International's Bible distribution in the school's lobby. Federal judge Carlton Reeves, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, found the district in contempt of court based on those incidents.
"Under the Agreed Judgment, M.B. (plaintiff) acquiesced not to pursue her lawsuit with the pledge that the district, in turn, would ensure future compliance with the provisions of its newly adopted policy on religion," Reeves wrote in the order. "Defendant failed to honor its end of the agreement. The district's breach did not take very long and it occurred in a very bold way."
According to Christian News Network, the judge issued a $7,500 fine towards the district and prohibited them from offering prayers or sermons at any of its events. The district would face a $10,000 fine on every further incident that promoted Christianity; it later said it will comply with the ruling.
"As long as there is testing in schools, we believe that teachers, principals and students will continue to pray," Superintendent Lynn Weathersby said in a statement. "That being said, the school district will certainly abide by the order of any court to the best of its ability and will take whatever action necessary to make sure that all principals and teachers are updated on the current status of the law and that order."