Judge’s harsh lesson for US school district
Back in 2013, a lawsuit was filed against the Rankin County School District in Missippi for sponsoring student events that included religious proselytising.
In November 2014, the American Humanist Association, which filed the lawsuit, and school district officials, entered into a Consent Decree, which prohibited the district from exposing students to further religious shenanigans.
Despite this ruling, the school district then sponsored an award ceremony that included Christian prayers and sermons and subsequently promoted the distribution of Gideon Bibles to elementary students.
So it again found itself in trouble.
According to the AHA, US District Judge Carlton W Reeves issued an order on July 10 holding the school district in contempt, and permanently enjoined the school district from:
Including prayer or religious sermons in any school-sponsored event.
Now here comes the shocking bit. The school district claimed that the First Amendment violations that took place after the initial lawsuit arose out of … sheer ignorance:
School officials are ill-equipped to understand the complexities of constitutional law.
According to Friendly Atheist Hermant Mehta:
In short, their defence was: ‘We’re too dumb to understand a simple concept that our lawyer could have explained to us in about a minute.’
Hell, I’ll do it again in one sentence: Don’t promote religion during school hours.
I gather from Mehta’s post that the the first lawsuit, brought on behalf of a Northwest Rankin High School student – Magdalene “Gracie” Bedi – cost the school district $15,000 in legal fees, and because of the later violations, it now owes Bedi $2,500 for forcing her to sit through a prayer during the awards ceremony, and an additional $5,000 because she exposed their Gideons “charade”.
Wait! That’s not all! The District will have to pay her $10,000 every time they violate the law in the future.
Bedi, for the record, is not one of those “militant atheists” Christians are always banging on about. In explaining why she had originally instigated the lawsuit, she wrote:
I am not an angry atheist. As a matter of fact, I am not an atheist at all. I hold many Christian beliefs and values, and I do not mean to attack the religion or its message.
Instead, this is a case about our constitutional right to be free from the government promoting these religious beliefs. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being an atheist. In fact, my friend Alexis, who is bringing this lawsuit with me, is a humanist.