Humanist group takes school district to court over prayers

(Cyndi L. Hendry)

The American Humanist Association has filed suit against a Georgia school district for permitting district employees to engage in prayer with their students, and including religious references in football literature.

The Hall County School District, its superintendent, Will Schofield, and Chestatee High School Principal Suzanne Jarrard are named as defendants, the Gainesville Times reports.

The Appignani Humanist Legal Center filed the suit on behalf of one Hall County School District parent and two district residents – identified anonymously as Jane Doe, Jane Roe, and Jane Coe – who take issue with the alleged practices at Chestatee High School.

Specifically, the complaint challenges:

Defendants' policy, practice, and custom of authorising faculty, coaches and other school officials to lead and participate in prayer with students during school-sponsored activities, and their policy, practice, and custom of inserting biblical references into official football team documents and banners, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, as applied to Georgia by the Fourteenth Amendment."

Although their child is not yet old enough to attend high school, Doe contends that the child has been "exposed to the promotion of religion," and Roe and Coe are allegedly "aggrieved by the acts and practices complained of."

The legal centre initially contacted the district in August regarding alleged separation of church and state violations, but says their concerns were dismissed.

"We tried very hard to get them to have a dialogue with us about what's going on, but unfortunately they showed no interest whatsoever and left us with no choice but litigation," Appignani Director David Niose explained.

Superintendent Schofield called the lawsuit a distraction.

"Attempts to distract our district from our mission into supporting the efforts of special interest groups will always be discouraged," he said in a statement.

"This district, along with others in our nation, must focus our limited time and resources on matters that prepare and enable our students to be the productive citizens of tomorrow, which includes respecting all rights guaranteed by our Constitution."