Legal Center Files Suit Over Christian Assemblies at Rankin County Schools

Rankin County, MOAmerican Humanist Association says Northwest Rankin High School violated the separation of church and state


For Immediate Release

Contact: Monica Miller, mmiller@americanhumanist.org, 202-238-9088 x120

(Washington, DC, April 25, 2013) —The American Humanist Association’s legal center filed a lawsuit at 2:30 p.m. ET yesterday against Northwest Rankin High School in Flowood, Mississippi, challenging the school’s recent mandatory student assemblies that presented a Christian message as a violation of the separation of church and state.

The Appignani Humanist Legal Center learned from Northwest Rankin High School students that a mandatory assembly was held during school hours on April 9 where a representative of the Pinelake Baptist Church spoke of finding “hope” in “Jesus Christ.”

According to students present, those who attempted to leave were prevented from doing so. At the end of the presentation, the speakers led the students in a Christian prayer.

Attorneys for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter to the school condemning the assembly as unconstitutional but did not receive a reply.

While in a statement the school contends the assembly was “student-led and organized,” William Burgess, legal coordinator of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, said, “It is clear that these assemblies are put on by the school itself.  They were staged in a school room, during the school day and the school sent an email to teachers telling them that students were required to attend.”

“As the Supreme Court has made clear, when a school sponsors an event, the religious speech of speakers, including students or other private parties, is attributable to the school and therefore subject to the Establishment Clause,” Burgess continued.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the American Humanist Association in federal court in Jackson, Mississippi.  The complaint filed in the case can be read here.

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The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 160 local chapters and affiliates across America. Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation and The Herb Block Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

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