South Carolina Student Files Lawsuit Against School District

Yesterday. Max Nielson filed a lawsuit (PDF) with the help of FFRF against Lexington/Richland District 5 on the grounds that the prayer that was to happen during his graduation would be unconstitutional.

There was a vote by the senior class earlier in the semester to determine whether or not to have a prayer during graduation, but the vote itself was faculty-led. This is in accordance with district policy which says that benedictions at school events should be determined by majority vote.

Max is suing on the grounds that the policy itself is unconstitutional:

The clear purpose of the policy is [to] promote religion; it… lacks a secular legislative purpose; and it cultivates, fosters and fertilizes a most excessive governmental entanglement with religion. The mere passage by the District of this policy evidences a purpose and perception of government establishment of religion. The policy’s text and the circumstances surrounding its enactment reveal that it has such a purpose. The District’s implementation of an electoral process that subjects the issue of prayer to a majoritarian vote has established a governmental mechanism that turns the school into a forum for religious debate and empowers the student body majority to subject students of minority views to constitutionally improper messages. The award of that power alone is constitutionally repugnant.

Yesterday was the graduation and it went exactly as planned, including the prayer. Since Max is a friend of mine, I decided to go and support him. None of the local news networks had contacted Max before the ceremony, so the story was still relatively quiet. Most of the student body so far has supported Max in his efforts for equality, so it has really only been the school district blocking equality.

Here’s video of the pre-graduation prayer (Apologies for the terrible quality — there was a baby and I was far away)

Gentlemen, please remove your hats.

Father, we come today once again asking for your guidance, protection, and mercy. Be with us, Lord, as we venture out into the world and start this journey called life… lead us all, Lord, through the path that you intend for us to follow. We ask that you will continually watch over us because we need you now more than ever and help us, Lord, with any future endeavors that we may face. Because we know with you all things are possible. We thank you for all the teachers, parents, and administrators who [got] us through our 12 years of school. We also pray for families of those who didn’t make it here to see this day, but remain in our hearts. Our final prayer, Lord, is that you grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

It was a relatively normal graduation and nothing (else) went awry. After graduation, a news anchor was waiting for Max to get a quote.

So far he’s been covered on WLTX and he was interviewed by WIStv in the evening.

Overall it went about as expected for the day. Congratulations on graduating, Max!

About Kelley Freeman

Kelley is a recent graduate of the University of South Carolina. She is a former president of the Secular Student Alliance at the University of South Carolina and a former intern for both SSA and Foundation Beyond Belief. Kelley is also a board member for both Camp Quest South Carolina and the Carolinas Secular Association, a Volunteer Network Coordinator for the southeastern region for the SSA, runs a vlog series called Secular Start Up, sometimes does stand up comedy and can crochet like a fiend. She's on her way to becoming a Jane of All Trades. Follow her on twitter @ramenneedles

  • Gordon Duffy

    I’d have been so tempted to bring an air horn

  • Itarion

    I bet some people would have thought you were just really into it.

  • Ewan

    “Most of the student body so far has supported Max in his efforts for
    equality, so it has really only been the school district blocking

    So, why couldn’t they just vote against the prayer then?

  • Slow Learner

    Well, if a lot of them are Christian, it may have taken Max raising the issue and talking about why it is wrong before they realised the problem. Assuming Max hadn’t got the word out before the vote on whether to have a prayer, a lot of them will have voted for it because ‘prayer is good’ or ‘why not’ without really thinking about it.

    Alternatively, the body of the school as a whole might be supportive of Max, but a majority of his own year-group in favour of the prayer. Coupla different ways to interpret that.

  • Gildedlink

    as the article stated, the vote wasn’t a student vote, it was a faculty vote.

  • Marguerite

    Congratulations to Max on his graduation.

    I recall that prayer was supposed to be “nonsectarian,” and yet it refers to one god, and specifically a male god. That excludes most Pagans. This god is also presumed to be watching over us and guiding us, which excludes Deists. And finally, “with you all things are possible” is a direct reference to Matthew 19:26. Do Christians really think that praying to a male singular god and tossing in references to the Bible is “nonsectarian,” just as long as they don’t add “in Christ’s name, Amen”?

  • Itarion

    Absolutely that’s nonsectarian. After all, there are lots of gods that go by both “Lord” and “Father”.
    Incidentally, prayer syntax and wordage varies by religion, so even without names being mentioned in the prayer, it’s still possible to identify the religion of origin based on that.

  • randall.morrison90

    And don’t forget, there can be MONEY in those lawsuits.

    Ask Dan Barker; he makes a nice income from this kind of activity.

  • Thorny264

    At this point there have been enough  lawsuits that the school has got to know they are going to lose and basically give away money. So if someone wants to stand up for the law and makes some money in the meantime then good for them  and bad for the idiots who keep making this lawsuits happen.

    But I’m guessing you think the only reason this kid is doing this is for money because let me guess only christians can do the right thing and Atheists are all immoral.

  • Fsq

    The problem with this argument is that we collectively pay for these asinine and idiotic lawsuits. We end up paying the settlements, and we also have to help pay for the legal defense of the stupid school districts who flagrantly violate law.

    As a property owner and taxpayer, I have a real problem with this attitude.

    I want the payers stopped and the separation upheld, but I find it repugnant I end up paying on all ends.

    That is effed.

  • Daniel

    If it makes you feel any better, given religion’s tax exempt status, as a property owners and tax payer, you are also subsidizing churches that are paying off victims of abuse, megachurches that provide malls/athletic clubs/coffee shops for their members, and so on.  Heck, your tax dollars indirectly go to Fred Phelp’s gas bill as he drives about the country.

    As a taxpayer, I want schools to stop doing things that established case law has shown to be clearly illegal  and I would also like to quit subsidizing religions. 

    That those things are happening is “effed”.

  • Ejcpromo

    I understand and agree, but when idiots like this superintendent goes ahead and flagrantly breaks the law, we end up paying for his defense along with the settlements.

    I understand that the tax exempt status of churches is disgusting, and beieve me, I am a huge activist itrying to get that privilige reviked from the churches, but the lawsuits are disgusting because we all pay, even for the bad guys.

    I dont like paying for the bad guys defense.

  • Ulyanov

    Too bad.  You have to.

    Don’t worry, the government owns you and will eventually decide what health care you get and how long you can live.

  • Coyotenose

     *holds out a Snickers*

  • wmdkitty

     Maybe if you pretend to throw it, he’ll chase after it…

  • Coyotenose

     Can you explain exactly what is asinine and idiotic about upholding the Constitution?

    Trying to somehow find fault with both the lawbreakers and those who don’t let them get away with it… once again, I’m going to have cite XKCD #774. Pretending to be superior by claiming all sides are bad is ignorant and repugnantly arrogant.

  • Coyotenose

    My apologies, the context of your later posts makes it clear that you were going somewhere else with this.

  • TerranRich

    Right. Money. Because every Constitutionally-based lawsuit is all about teh moneh. Like Jessica Ahlquist, right? She sued Cranston High School West for The Money… all $25 of it.

    Sometimes, believe it or not, it’s not about the money, randall.morrison90… sometimes, it’s about principle. Gee, what a concept, eh?

  • Ulyanov

    And sometimes it IS about the money…the law firm who hhandles the DOVER suit because they “believed in the cause” got a MILLION BUCKS!

    And if money is not an issue, then atheists should just graciously waive all monetary awards in the spirit of good will and because they just do GOODNESS FOR GOODNESS sake, not for reward.

  • TerranRich

    You have no idea how the legal system works, do you? There HAS to be a monetary value assigned to the suit. That’s why, in the case of Ahlquist v. Cranston, she sued for $25… and promptly gave it to charity.

    Sometimes it is about the money, but sometimes it’s not. Don’t assume it is until you have proof for that claim.

  • Slow Learner

    Do you have any idea how much it’d cost them to run a case like that?

    A million dollars could be very reasonable for the work done.I hesitate to ask for sympathy for lawyers, but the workman is worthy of his hire. That’s not a financial benefit to anyone like the FFRF, only the law firm who have been doing their jobs and working their arses off protecting the US constitution.

  • Barberj2

    Because talking in all caps makes my point!

  • Coyotenose

     All caps would make more sense than this. His choices of words to capitalize are generally nonsensical.

  • Coyotenose

     You’re just not very good at this. They got paid for work done. That money was not free. Human beings have to eat and pay bills.

    Setting up a moronic straw man argument doesn’t look less mornic just because you use your caps lock button at random.

  • Hemant Mehta

    Barker doesn’t make money from the lawsuits. He gets the same salary from the FFRF win or lose. That’s how it works for just about all the non-profit groups that file lawsuits, Christian ones included.

  • Ulyanov

    Nonsense, because if the FFRF gets the money they can pay his salary and a Bonus.


  • Baby_Raptor

    Pretty sure you could just Google that.

  • Au_catboy

      Well, Ulyanov, if your bizarre delusion that FFRF is raking in gobs of
    money by suing christians for breaking the law is giving you such a
    terminal case of the vapors, there’s an easy solution: Tell your fellow

  • Au_catboy

    Well, randall, if your bizarre delusion that FFRF is raking in gobs of
    money by suing christians for breaking the law is giving you such a
    terminal case of the vapors, there’s an easy solution: Tell your fellow

  • Atheistbob

    Having the students “take a vote” is the smarmy way they sneak in the prayers at the High Schools.  They know that peer pressure usually gets prayer a place on the docket and they can claim, “Well the STUDENTS wanted it.”.  I applaud Max and other young adults who see through this religious hypocrisy!   We have more than enough superstitious institutions in which anyone can pray, there is no need to attempt to subvert logic and reason in our public schools!

  • randall.morrison90

    The schools in KC, Mo have been full of drugs, violence, rape and even some killings.

    Yeah, sure, some kid praying is the problem in our wonderful public schools.

  • Freedog2013

    Are you saying we should singular tunnel vision and ignore violations of our constitution?  

  • Thorny264

    Just because there are worse problems doesn’t mean we should ignore the smaller problems, they are all illegal and they should all be tackled.

  • TerranRich

    People get things stolen from them all the time. People get raped all the time. Since the rapes are worse than theft, are we supposed to also ignore the theft because there are worse things going on?

    Your argument fails on so many levels. Just because one problem trumps another, doesn’t mean the “lesser” problem isn’t important at all.

  • Ulyanov

    Kids need to be safe from violence and drugs before you start bellyaching about prayer.

    So, YES…the LESSER problem is not so important, moron.

    So if you child get raped, mst tell them “people get raped all the time” you fucking fool

  • Baby_Raptor

    Maybe you should go take a break…Not only are you being highly insulting when there’s no need, you’re borderline incomprehensible. 

  • Ulyanov

    Yes, I do go into a rage when some stinking fool says people get raped all the time and blows it off.

    The fucking fool.

    My apologies that he is a fucking fool.

  • Au_catboy

     Reeding comprehenshun: U R DOIN IT RONG!

  • Coyotenose

     Noooot so good at the reading comprehension there, Ulyanov.

    Not that I expect you to get this, but according to your own “logic”, people need to be safe from rape before YOU start bellyaching about people criticizing prayer.

    Fucking fool.

  • Au_catboy

     These christianist idiots always babble nonsense that only works if it’s absolutely impossible for anyone to do more than one thing or support more than one cause.  And yet, the very fact that they’re whining on the Internet about their cult not being allowed to break the law with impunity shows that they don’t give a flying fuck about real problems by their own stupid argument!

  • Ulyanov

    So are you defending rape, you stupid cunt?

  • Coyotenose

     Somewhere in KC, more people are doing more drugs and getting raped and killed than in your schools. Therefore, by your own logic, you should stop whining about KC schools until that’s taken care of.

    See how that works now?

  • Nathan Brown

     Great post indeed like to read more…Hope it will come soon from the bogger.

  • TerranRich

    “Gentlemen, please remove your hats.”

    Not for this shit, I won’t.

  • TerranRich

    Jessica Ahlquist brought her suit to Cranston High School West for money, don’tcha know… all $25 of it.

  • One Side

    Based on that prayer, there is no violation of the establishment clause. Good luck getting damage from a hurting economy and I find it interesting that “most” of the student body supports this, so 51% huh? Any verifiable numbers?

  • eb

    those numbers are never released by the school. they just have the prayer. 

  • Patrick

    He’s an eagle scout too?  Unfortunate that they don’t like atheists either. 

  • Daddyleg

    he needs to be kicked out, the boy scouts believe in god, he has been lying this whole time,

  • datadev1

    I am an Eagle Scout and it is one of my proudest achievements but there are times I am ashamed of the BSA organization for there stand on belief in myths and its stance on homosexuality. Close minded bigotry.

  • GloomCookie613

    He already addressed this in another post’s comments. He’s a member of a UU church. They accept non believers and the BSA recognizes and accepts UU scouts.

  • One Side

    What we have here is a picture of Chewbacca, and on the otherside, we have a case that will be argued and properly solved in federal court, and hopefully decide and determine future cases pertaining to this matter, what do these two things have to do with eachother? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! I rest my case.

  • Kate Donovan

    Uhhh…autocorrect? Chewbacca?

  • judith sanders

    The AA prayer?  Really?  I’ve always hated that loser bit of doggerel.  If everyone had the “wisdom” to know what could and could not be changed, we wouldn’t have much progress in any field.  I’m sure somebody told Max he couldn’t change his school policy. 

  • Daddyleg

    bullsiht, if the majority were for this ,it would be national news,

  • eb

    this is happening in the bible belt… so to the majority this is a whiny atheist, and they’re ignoring it… which is half the problem. 

  • Barberj2

    I graduated from a Lex/Rich Dist. 5 school, and it’s awesome to see someone standing up like this in my home area! Well done!! 😀

  • @ramenneedles

    What a tool

  • Larry_Carter_Center

    Graduation is a celebration of intelligence & completed duties. Prayer is an admission of ignorance & creationist rebuff to science. Public schools are elemental offices & trust for equal protection of law. Theocracy violates Article 6. Religious students can pray quietly if stupid enough to look backwards into mythology & patriarchy. American Atheists look forward to inclusive secular education. In REASON We Trust. http://www.hireLarryFireBobby 843-926-1750 @VoteLarryDis114

  • KhanneaSuntzu

    He should be afraid for his life. The US is a militant theocratic tyranny. These people are crazy. They’ll kill him!

  • Lydia Byers

    Way to be a dick Max. Now.. instead of being known for your accomplishments… you’re known as the dick who sued the school because of a majority decided prayer. I’m an Athiest but this is just ridiculous.

  • Vision_From_Afar

    Standing up for Constitutional Law is being a dick? Good thing you weren’t around in the 60s…

  • V-Dawg Lacrucious

    Get over yourself you attention whoring Jessica Waanabe….you didn’t have to listen, you didn’t have to partake, stop wasting valuable resources, money and time, to ultimately try and satisfy your obviously overly inflated sense of self-worth…”Mommy, I never get the attention I want, I’m gonna complain and make a big deal over nothing so that someone will finally notice me!”  BOO-HOO, you little brat.  Wake up, there are things worth causing  stir over and this isn’t one.  One day you will mature and be embarrassed for you lame actions.  You make me sick, wasting so many people’s time, simply because you are an attention whore.

  • Simon

    Lmao, what an idiot. If you’re an Atheist, you wouldn’t care about anything people with religions do, BECAUSE THEY AREN’T GODDAMN REAL. You’re supposed to be smart if you’re an Atheist. *facepalm*

  • Dillon Maikke

    die in a fuckin hole max your pathetic this just another publicity stunt. and before you go thinking I’m just some religious nut I hate all religion