FLORENCE, S.C. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union sued in federal court Monday, claiming that public schools in Chesterfield County are unconstitutionally promoting Christianity.
The suit, brought on behalf of student and his father, who are atheists, stems from a rally earlier this year at New Heights Middle School that featured a Christian rapper and a youth evangelist.
It alleged that “the district has a longstanding custom, policy, and practice of coercing and encouraging religious activities, as well as conveying religious messages throughout district schools, including at New Heights Middle School.”
It names as defendants the school district itself, the school board, John Williams, the district superintendent and Larry Stinson, the principal of New Heights Middle School.
The lawsuit asks the court to block the defendants from “proselytizing during class and school-sponsored events,” from encouraging students to participate in religious events and from “otherwise unconstitutionally endorsing religion or religiously coercing students or parents.”
District spokesman Ken Buck said Monday that school officials were not aware of the lawsuit.
The suit was filed on behalf of Jonathan Anderson and his son, a student at New Heights Middle.
According to the lawsuit, the boy had a choice of attending the September rally with the rapper or reporting to the in-school suspension room.
The student “felt pressured to attend the assembly” because being sent to the suspension room “was basically intended to punish them for refusing to go to the religious event.” In the room, students would have to sit silently and do work that students attending the rally would not have to do, the suit claimed.
On his way to the concert, the student’s teacher said: “Isn’t this going to be fun?” When the student said he was an atheist, he was told by the teacher: “I wouldn’t brag about that,” the lawsuit said.
It added that the student was uncomfortable and upset and that on his way out of the assembly, he was given religious tracts from volunteers and teachers.
The lawsuit said the father is upset about “the prayers and proselytizing at school events, as well as the religious iconography posted throughout New Heights Middle School.”
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