February 2021 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

A public school district in Green­v­ille, S.C., has agreed to settle a long-running lawsuit over religious activities.

Representing a local family, the American Humanist Association (AHA) sued the Greenville County School District seven years ago over a series of religious practices in at least some of its schools. Officials were accused of instructing students to deliver official graduation prayers and using an evangelical Christian chapel for its elementary-school ceremonies.

A federal court ruled in favor of the AHA and declared many of the practices unconstitutional. In 2015, the court ruled the graduation had included “unconstitutional” forms of school-sanctioned prayer. Two years later, the court ruled that the district could not use religious venues for its graduation ceremonies; in 2019, the court ruled that the district had not adequately distanced itself from school prayer.

The school board voted 8-3 in December to drop its appeal and settle with the AHA. Under the terms of the settlement, the AHA will receive $187,000 in legal fees from the district.

“This is a rare and timely victory for the First Amendment,” AHA Legal Director Monica Miller said. “When I filed this case back in 2013, we faced a school district deeply entrenched in unconstitutional religious practices. After defeating the school district in numerous appeals and court orders, we end this case not through judicial force but through mutual respect for the Constitution’s promise of religious freedom.”

Among the dissenters on the board was Chuck Saylors, who attacked the AHA during a meeting. “There is no way under God’s little green acre that I can sit here tonight and support something from a group that tears down and chastises community values – and that’s exactly what they do,” Saylors said.