Franklin Graham has warned that Christianity is currently in the "direct line of fire" and urged Christians to stand up for their religious freedoms after a U.S. Federal District Court fined Mississippi's third largest public school district $7,500 after a minister opened up a district-wide honors assembly with a prayer invocation. The court reportedly ruled that the assembly violated a 2013 court settlement that ordered the district to stop "proselytizing Christianity."
In a Facebook post shared on Thursday, Rev. Graham, who is the president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse, shared his thoughts on the issue.
"Suing is a tactic being used to intimidate Christians and to trample on our religious freedoms-it's an epidemic," he wrote. "As Christians we've got to take a stand for our religious freedoms. It's a new day in America--Christianity is in the direct line of fire. Pray for this superintendent and school system, and for all those coming under attack right here in our own country."
Fox News reports that Judge Carlton Reeves ordered the school district to pay $2,500 to a student plaintiff from Northwest Rankin High School in Flowood because the student attended an assembly at Brandon High School in May 2014 that began with a prayer led by local pastor the Rev. Rob Gill.
The school district was additionally ordered to pay the student $5,000 because the lawsuit claimed that the school district allowed Gideons International to hand out Bibles to fifth graders at nearby elementary school last Fall.
The school district will also have to pay the student's legal fees, an amount that will be determined at a later date, and a $10,000 fine for any future infraction.
"The district's breach did not take very long and it occurred in a very bold way," Reeves wrote in his judgment. "Its conduct displays that the district did not make any effort to adhere to the agreed judgment."
School district attorneys are arguing that the event was optional and thus did not violate the student's First Amendment rights. However, Reeves said he believes the district is trying to promote and spread Christianity to its students, Fox reported.
"It deliberately went out of its way to entangle Christian indoctrination in the education process," the judge argued. "From the accounts detailed in the record, it appears that incorporating religious script and prayers with school activities has been a long-standing tradition of the district."
Rankin County Superintendent Lynn Weathersby said in a statement issued through school board attorney Fred Harrell that despite the court's ruling, students and teachers will continue to pray and seek the Lord's guidance. However, in light of the recent ruling, district staff will have to monitor public displays of Christianity.
"As long as there is testing in schools, we believe that teachers, principals and students will continue to pray," Weathersby stated. "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."