The American Humanist Association’s legal center filed a lawsuit 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.