Rankin County School District in Mississippi was found in contempt of court and fined $7,500 for unconstitutionally promoting religion in school. The school was in violation of a 2013 agreement reached in a First Amendment lawsuit of a student filed by the American Humanist Association (AHA).
The court found the district had “failed to honor its end of the agreement.” The court said, in the judge’s order, “Parent’s don’t drop off their children at the school house door to have their child’s religious beliefs affirmed, questioned or compromised,” reports Baptist Joint Committee.
Magdalene Bedi, a junior at Northwest Rankin High School in 2013, wasn’t a part of an organized religion. She considered herself spiritual, but not an atheist. She did not like that the school had Christian prayer and ceremonies. She would go to the library during school assemblies as well.
That year, Bedi’s friends warned her that a local church was sponsoring an assembly. She tried to go to the library, but school officials would not let her.
Bedi sued the school over violations of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment which prohibits the government from endorsing a religion.
“I am not a confrontational person,” Bedi said to the Jackson Free Press. “I didn’t intend to sue or lead a brigade against the Christians.”
Public schools are subject to religious freedom in that they cannot sponsor or promote a religion and must allow students to create independent religious groups if they want. School sponsored religious assemblies are therefore illegal, reported Jackson Free Press.
The district was ordered to pay Bedi’s legal fees, admit liability to the assemblies, and promise to follow the new religion police. The policy said, “school activities conducted during instructional hours should neither advance, endorse or inhibit any religion.”
If the district did not abide by the policy, the AHA was allowed to file a motion for contempt.
Later, an ACT Awards Ceremony opened with a prayer from a local minister. The AHA also received a tip that the school was distributing bibles, after which they filed for contempt.
If the school violates the terms again, they will have to pay Bedi $10,000 for each violation.
“There are other students, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish students, who have contacted me who are now in a safe place and don’t have to dread going to school, because they may be isolated over their religious beliefs,” Bedi, who is now studying pre-law in college, said.
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