A Mississippi school district has been recently barred from including any prayers or religious sermons in school activities, reports Christian Today and The Associated Press.
A 16-year-old student filed a complaint in 2013 when he felt he was mandated to attend a series of “Christian Assemblies” at his Northwest Rankin High School. The district at the time agreed to settle the suit and effectively put into place a policy that prohibited activities promoting or inhibiting any religion during school hours, reports AP.
A year later, the same student attended an honors ceremony at Brandon High School where school officials had reportedly brought in a Christian preacher to deliver a prayer. The student then decided to file a motion to enforce the consent decree and motion for civil contempt. The district responded by claiming that the student’s attendance was not mandatory, reports Christian Today.
Additionally, the student claimed the school district assisted with a religious group’s distribution of Bibles by bringing them to an elementary school.
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves determined the Rankin County School District in Brandon, Mississippi, to be guilty of violating the 2013 policy that prohibited the promotion of religion in schools. Whether these events were mandatory or not, did not matter, the judge explained.
"The event was still coercive as it unnecessarily required Plaintiff to make the difficult decision between being exposed to a religious ritual she found objectionable or not attend an event honoring her and other students for their academic excellence," Reeves wrote, reports Christian Today.
The judge also condemned the distribution of Bibles in the schools.
"Even absent the connection of any particular religious group, Bible distribution at public schools is intrinsically unconstitutional because it 'interfere(s) with the rights of parents to raise their children according to family religious traditions,'" Christian Today reports.
The school district must now pay $2,500 to the student for deprivation of constitutional rights and $5,000 for the distribution of the Bibles, according to Christian Today.