Humanists Score Victory in Longstanding SC School Prayer Case

Humanists Score Victory in Longstanding SC School Prayer Case December 17, 2020

This is from the AHA:

The American Humanist Association (AHA) scored a major victory for church-state separation in its seven-year lawsuit over school prayers and religious venues in Greenville, South Carolina. On Tuesday, the Greenville County School District voted 8-3 to drop its appeal and settle with the AHA on terms the court had already ordered with slight modifications.

“This is a rare and timely victory for the First Amendment,” said Monica Miller, AHA’s Legal Director and Senior Counsel, and lead counsel on the case. “When I filed this case back in 2013, we faced a school district deeply entrenched in unconstitutional religious practices,” Miller explained. Miller remarked: “After defeating the school district in numerous appeals and court orders, we end this case not through judicial force but through mutual respect for the Constitution’s promise of religious freedom.”

The AHA sued the Greenville County School District in September 2013 challenging its decades-long practice of instructing students to deliver official graduation prayers and using an evangelical Christian chapel for the elementary ceremonies. The AHA won on most of the issues it challenged since it was filed.

In 2015, the AHA was awarded nominal damages after the court ruled the graduation had included “unconstitutional” school-sanctioned prayer. The court ruled in 2017 that the district could not use religious venues for graduation ceremonies, and in 2019, the court ruled that the district had not adequately distanced itself from school prayer, warranting permanent injunctive relief. The 2019 order, at issue in the settlement, ends the last vestiges of school endorsement of religious graduation messages. Last night, the school district agreed to drop its appeal of the 2019 order and submit to the terms of the court order with minor modifications (and with a sizable cut from the AHA’s fees).

According to the U.S. Supreme Court, keeping religion out of the government’s hands enables religion to “flourish according to the zeal of its adherents and the appeal of its dogma.” Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, 313 (1952).

The settlement is currently pending final order by the court.

Find AHA’s prior filings in the case here.

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The American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other nontheistic Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming worldview of humanism, which—without beliefs in gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms a responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.

Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

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