It has been nearly 50 years since the Supreme Court ruled that officially sponsored prayer in public schools violated the separation of church and state.
In landmark decisions in 1962 and 1963, the Supreme Court barred official promotion of religion in schools. That principle has remained solid, although conservatives blame it for what they see as the nation’s moral and social decline. At the same time, the courts and Congress have also reinforced the rights of students to pray on their own and to form after-school religious clubs.
Christian Prayer And Symbols Still In Evidence
In spite of these rulings, open prayer and Christian symbols have never really disappeared from some schools. Care2′s Robin Marty wrote about one incident here, and then there’s New Heights Middle School in Chesterfield County schools, South Carolina.
From The New York Times:
At a school assembly in South Carolina on Sept. 1, a preacher described how Christ saved him from drugs, telling his rapt audience that “a relationship with Jesus is what you need more than anything else.” A rapper shouted the Lord’s praise to a light show and most of the audience stepped forward to pledge themselves to Christ while a few remained, uncomfortable, in their seats.
Such overt evangelizing would not be unusual at a prayer rally, but this was a daytime celebration in a public school gymnasium, arranged by the principal for sixth, seventh and eighth graders. When the rapper posted a video on YouTube, announcing that “324 kids at this school have made a decision for Jesus Christ,” he drew unwelcome public and legal scrutiny to the event. It was the kind of religious advocacy that is increasingly coming to light, legal experts say, as school populations become more diverse and as the objection of non-Christians — or, in this case, the rejoicing of evangelists — is broadcast on the Internet.
Middle-School Student Sues His School Over Christian Activities And Wins!
As a result of this event, the school district was sued for holding a prayer rally at a school assembly and prayers at official events.
And now it has agreed to end its promotion of religion. A federal judge on Thursday made final a consent decree in which the Chesterfield County schools admitted to violation of separation of church and state. Under the decree, school officials may not encourage prayers at events or allow endorsement of religion in the classroom. The suit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a middle-school student who objected to the evangelical assembly and other Christian activities at school.
“I’m relieved that the school is taking the appropriate measures to make sure that my child – and any child – will feel comfortable and welcome no matter what he believes,” said Jonathan Anderson, whose son J.A. is a student in the district. J.A. is referred to by his initials to protect his privacy while the lawsuit is pending.
“The district has done the right thing by acknowledging that school officials cannot use their positions of influence to persuade students to devote themselves to one particular religion,” said Victoria Middleton, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina. “We’re glad that the school has agreed to a reasonable settlement.”
Hooray For J.A.!
Standing up for your rights as a middle schooler is pretty amazing, so congratulations to J.A. for having the courage and moral conviction to step forward, and also for winning! Very cool!
Photo Credit: Catholics.in.America