Pastor prays at school, district fined $7.5K

Jul 27, 2015 by

Michael F. Haverluck –

A school district in Mississippi received a $7,500 fine for allowing a pastor to open up an event in prayer and permitting Bibles to be handed out on campus.

Not long after a local pastor began a districtwide honors assembly with a prayer invocation, the United States Federal District Court ruled against the Rankin County School District (RCSD), issuing it a fine for allegedly violating a 2013 court settlement ordering the district to stop “proselytizing Christianity.”

U.S.  District Judge Carlton Reeves reminded the district that it is a repeat offender. He is the same judge who previously banned Bibles from being distributed on all RCSD campuses. This marks the second time he has ordered the district to cease from permitting prayer at school events.

“The district’s breach did not take very long and it occurred in a very bold way,” Reeves stated in his judgement, according to the Christian Post. “Its conduct displays that the district did not make any effort to adhere to the agreed judgment.”

Reeves’ reproach for biblical influences in the school were emphasized in his summary, where he accused RCSD officials of attempting to indoctrinate students with Christianity through prayer.

“It deliberately went out of its way to entangle Christian indoctrination in the education process,” the district judge argued in his ruling. “From the accounts detailed in the record, it appears that incorporating religious script and prayers with school activities has been a long-standing tradition of the district.”

Paying the price for inviting God into schools

The student who sued the school district reportedly did not attend the high school where the prayer was made. Furthermore, the assembly was not mandatory for any students to attend. The event was designed for all students in the school district who received higher than 22 on their ACT college test scores.

Judge Reeves ordered RCSD to pay the student $2,500 for having to listen to the invocation. The atheist group, American Humanist Association (AHA), filed the lawsuit on behalf of a Northwest Rankin High School student who attended an assembly that started with a prayer by local Methodist pastor Rev. Rob Gill at Brandon High School.

However, Reeves’ penalization of the school didn’t stop there, as the suit brought to attention another RCSD “violation” that took place last year.

“The school district was additionally ordered to pay the student $5,000 because the lawsuit exposed that the school district allowed Gideons International to hand out Bibles to fifth graders at nearby Northwest Rankin Elementary School in October 2014,” Christian Post Reporter Samuel Smith explained.

In addition to the two fines and courts costs, Reeves warned the district that he would issue stiffer penalties if it does not cease Christian influences from appearing on its campuses.

“Along with the $7,500 in fines, the school district will also have to pay the student’s legal fees, an amount that will be determined at a later date,” Smith continued. “Reeves also threatened the school district with a $10,000 fine for any future infractions of the order.”

Still under fire

The first incident sparking the legal firestorm over Christian influences in Mississippi’s third largest school district occurred in 2013, when the same Northwest Rankin High School (NRHS) student sued former NRHS Principal Charles Frazier for allegedly forcing him to attend a series of assemblies that he claimed to hav promoted Christianity.

“The school district and the student then agreed on a settlement in which the district admitted it violated the student’s First Amendment rights by forcing him to attend such assemblies, and also paid his legal fees,” Smith reported. “But after being notified about Gill’s prayer to start the honors ceremony in 2014, the AHA filed a motion accusing the district of being in contempt of court for failing to uphold its end of the settlement.”

Despite arguments from RCSD attorneys contending that Gill’s prayers were not in violation of the student’s First Amendment rights — or the court’s orders from 2013 — because attendance was not compulsory, Judge Reeves did not acknowledge the optional nature of the event as working toward the district’s favor.

Down but not out

Despite Reeve’s ruling for the student and the atheist organization, RCSD Superintendent Lynn Weathersby issued a statement through school board attorney Fred Harrell that students and teachers will not cease praying. Harrell did relay, however, that RCSD staff will need to make adjustments in order to comply with Reeve’s latest decision against the district.

“As long as there is testing in schools, we believe that teachers, principals and students will continue to pray,” Weathersby announced in her statement. “That being said, the school district will certainly abide by the order of any court to the best of its ability and will take whatever action necessary to make sure that all principals and teachers are updated on the current status of the law and that order.”

 

Source: Pastor prays at school, district fined $7.5K

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar
    ryan

    “We don’t think in your churches…so please don’t pray in our schools”

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