GAINESVILLE, Ga. — A school district in Georgia has reached an agreement with a prominent humanist organization, resulting in the dismissal of a lawsuit surrounding alleged coach-led prayer at a local high school.
As previously reported, the American Humanist Association (AHA) sent a letter last August to the superintendent of Hall County Schools, the principal of Chestatee High School and the chairman of the Board of Education after it received any complaint from a local resident about practices at the school.
According to the letter, written by AHA attorney Monica Miller, coaches at Chestatee High School have allegedly been citing Bible verses on team documents and either leading or joining with the team in prayer.
“We have received reports that CHS coaches have joined players in prayer while standing in a circle, hands interlocked. At times, the head coach has led the prayers, which is an egregious violation of the Establishment Clause,” the correspondence read.
“Further violating the Constitution, a citation to Galatians 6:9 was placed at the bottom of workout log sheets given to players, and the citation and text of Proverbs 27:17 was written in giant letters on a banner used for a football team pregame entrance,” it continued.
The letter then threatened a lawsuit if practices were not abandoned.
While the district sent an email out to staff advising that “[t]eachers, coaches, administrators, and other school employees may live out their faith in a variety of ways; however, they must not be leading students in prayer during school or school-sponsored activities,” AHA said that the instruction still allowed Christianity to be predominant and filed suit in December.
This week, the lawsuit was dismissed after the two groups came to an agreement over the matter. AHA says that under the settlement, the district will host a training session each year and will issue a memo to all principals under its authority advising that teachers must be neutral toward religion. Hall County Schools must also pay $22,500 to cover AHA’s legal fees.
“We are pleased that the district is taking productive steps forward to ensure compliance with the Constitution, and we expect that it will stop the student-staff prayer activities and other problematic conduct,” AHA Legal Director David Niose said in a statement.
But the district also released a statement refusing to admit to any wrongdoing, as is common in settlements.
“The Hall County School District admits to no violations of state or federal laws,” said Superintendent William Schofield. “The district will continue to hold the expectation that individuals within our organization abide by the laws of our land. The Hall County School District will make no monetary compensation to the plaintiffs. Insurance carriers are negotiating all questions regarding legal fees.”