Statement from the Rankin County School District: "Our students have the freedom to organize student-led and planned meetings and the assembly in question was student led and organized. The meetings were not mandatory."
RANKIN COUNTY, MS (Mississippi News Now) -
A lawsuit has been filed against Northwest Rankin High School, challenging the school's reportedly recent mandatory student assemblies that presented a Christian message as a violation of the separation of church and state.
The American Humanist Association's legal center filed the federal lawsuit Wednesday. 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 a press release from the American Humanist Association.
The group claims that students stated anyone who attempted to leave the April 9 assembly were prevented from doing so. The press release adds that 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.
Although the Rankin County School District had not received a notice of the lawsuit Thursday afternoon, a spokesperson issued a written statement stating:
"Our students have the freedom to organize student-led and planned meetings and the assembly in question was student led and organized. The meetings were not mandatory."
William Burgess, legal coordinator of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, recognizes that the school claims the assembly was "student-led and organized," but argues the school was absolutely involved.
"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," claims Burgess.
"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. The complaint filed in the case can be read here.
Northwest Rankin High School Principal Charles Frazier was also named in the lawsuit.
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