Flowood, Mississippi — A national humanist organization is outraged after learning of a recent school assembly in Mississippi where a representative from a local church shared messages with the youth about teen struggles and offered hope in Jesus Christ.
The American Humanist Association, whose motto is “Good Without a God,” has sent a letter to Northwest Rankin High School in Flowood to demand that the event never happen again.
According to reports, on April 9th, a representative of Pinelake Baptist Church participated in a student-organized assembly that included a video dealing with teen problems, such as premarital sex, drugs, cutting, suicide and other issues. The two individuals featured in the film explained that they were able to overcome their struggles through the power of Jesus Christ. The presenter also spoke to students about the hope that is found in Christ, and led students in prayer.
While the American Humanist Association contends that the assembly was mandatory for all students, the district disagrees. It states that the event was both organized and hosted by students who desired to present the assembly to their classmates.
“Our students have the freedom to organize student-led and planned meetings, and the assembly in question was student-led and organized,” it outlined in a statement.
The Appignani Humanist Legal Center in Washington, D.C., a branch of the the American Humanist Association, nonetheless sent a letter to school officials, rebuking them for permitting the event.
“This practice is unquestionably a serious violation of the separation of church and state required by the Constitution,” the letter stated. “Pursuant to Supreme Court precedent, the school’s sponsoring of and affiliation with, as well as endorsement of, Christianity through this event was unconstitutional.”
“It is sufficient that the presentation was school-sponsored and held on school grounds during class-time,” it continued. “The fact that this event was mandatory, and was promoted by the school principal only compounded the Establishment Clause violation.”
The Center then demanded that all events of similar nature be terminated, insinuating that a lawsuit could be filed against the school if it refuses to act.
“The event promoted by this school was conducted during class-time and was mandated by the principal. It has hard to imagine a more blatant violation of the Establishment Clause than the one complained of herein,” it stated. “The law prohibiting this type of endorsement and coercion is well-settled. As such, not only will the school, in its official capacity, be liable for this constitutional infringement pursuant to 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983, but the school officials responsible for the event will be personally liable too, in their individual capacities.”
Some advise that student-led religious activities are common in the South.
“Hardly surprising since it’s Mississippi,” one commenter stated.
“At my kids’ Southern public school, they sometimes had student-led prayer,” another advised. “[T]he students voted on it and wanted to have a prayer.”
One humanist stated that it was more troubling that students wished to offer hope in Christ to their fellow classmates than if the event had been organized by school officials.
“So the students have the power to force other students to listen to religious propaganda? That’s somehow even worse,” they wrote. “It’s not the school standing in loco parentis, it’s their peers.”