FAYETTE, Mo. — A Missouri school district has reached a settlement with a national humanist organization that filed a lawsuit in federal court over alleged practices that it said violated the U.S. Constitution by promoting Christianity on campus.
The American Humanist Association (AHA) of Washington had filed suit in November 2013 against the Fayette School District following an anonymous complaint from a student and their parent, as well as a former student, who claimed that school officials wrongfully favored Christianity over other religions—or non-religion.
The complaint issued to the court asserts that former Fayette High School Principal Darren Rapert announced weekly prayer meetings over the intercom, and allowed Christians to meet before classes, but not other students. It also accused former teacher Gwen Pope of praying with students during the meeting and displaying Christian literature in the classroom.
“The school was violating the Establishment Clause in numerous ways–by promoting prayer meetings, giving privileges to the Christian club, and inappropriately allowing the teacher to participate in the club’s activities,” said David Niose, legal director of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, a branch of AHA.
While the district denies the majority of the accusations, it decided to agree to a settlement over the matter in order to avoid additional legal expenses.
“After months of investigation and interviews, the district determined that virtually every allegation made by the plaintiffs was false, misleading or taken out of context,” Superintendent Tamara Kimball said in a statement to the Columbia Tribune. “As a result, the district agreed that the one allegation we did confirm as accurate, the content of the morning announcement, would be a simple concession to make so we could put this lawsuit behind us and continue our mission of educating students.”
The settlement, signed by U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey, requires changes to the Student Teacher Handbook, prohibits faculty from participating in prayers or other religious activities at student events, and bars teachers from placing religious materials in the sight of students.
“Public schools must uphold the separation of church and state,” remarked AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt. “To do otherwise is to disregard the rights of all students, including atheist and humanist children who are good without a God.”
The district must also pay $41,000 in attorneys fees as a part of the agreement.
However, some disagree with the outcome of the matter and state that a lawsuit should never have been filed in the first place.
“This whole thing was just ridiculous! Never should have been an issue!” one commenter wrote. “No one forced anyone to be a part of the prayer meeting. The American Humanist Association just goes around looking for a way to make money and cause trouble. … What a total waste of time, energy and educational funds!”
“[I]n the ‘progressive,’ leftist scheme of things, the laws and traditions of the Christian faith this country were built on are to be expunged. It must be eradicated at all cost,” another lamented. “Any positive mention of God or Christianity is to be banished from the classroom. It is only to be mentioned in the context of its ‘evil’ and oppression of poor victim class nations and peoples. People are to worship the leftist/marxist/progressive state, and no other.”