(Richmond, VA, May 10, 2016)—Today in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center argued for the rights of the American Humanist Associations’ members in Greenville County, South Carolina, to participate in the school district’s graduation ceremonies without being subjected to prayers and forced to enter a Christian chapel.
The Greenville County School District includes prayer in its graduation ceremonies and holds certain elementary school graduations in the Christian chapel of an evangelical university. In 2013, the American Humanist Association filed suit on behalf of a local family and its other members asserting that the school district’s graduation practices violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Last year, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center appealed the case after a district court upheld the school district’s current prayer policy and ruled that the family lost its standing to challenge the school district’s use of a chapel venue.
After presenting the American Humanist Association’s first argument before a federal appellate court, Senior Counsel Monica Miller said, “The Greenville County School District’s prayer policy coerces students into participating in prayer. By subjecting a captive audience of students to Christian prayers, the school district is violating the Constitution and infringing on the rights of non-Christian students.”
(Denver, CO, May 3, 2016)— The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center is appealing a district court’s decision that local families do not have standing to challenge the Douglas County School District’s unconstitutional, repeated endorsement of Christianity. The legal center defends the families’ standing and requests oral arguments before the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.
The Appignani Humanist Legal Center asserts in a brief filed yesterday that the local families have been injured by the Douglas County School District’s support for Christian programs, in violation the Establishment Clause. As taxpayers and as parents with children in the district who have been pressured to participate in these religious programs, the families have standing to bring a lawsuit against the school district. The brief demonstrates that the school district has supported evangelical Christian programs, such as Operation Christmas Child, and a proselytizing mission trip to Guatemala through Adventures in Missions™. The school district has promoted school-sponsored fundraisers for these programs and allows faculty to lead and participate in religious student clubs, such as Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
“Children have the right to be free from religious coercion in their public schools,” said Roy Speckhardt. “By fundraising for Christian organizations, the school district is sending the discriminatory message that humanists and other non-Christians are unwelcome in their own school and community.”
“The families are directly injured by their school district’s pervasive promotion of Christianity and will continue to be harmed, unless the Court stops these unconstitutional practices,” said Monica Miller, senior counsel for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “Numerous courts have found that encountering even one instance of state-sponsored religion provides grounds for standing, and these families have repeatedly been confronted with the district’s promotion of Christian organizations.”
(Pensacola, FL, May 4, 2016)—The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) are suing the City of Pensacola, Fla., to challenge a 25-foot tall Christian cross in public Bayview Park.
“Federal courts have made abundantly clear that the government’s display of a Christian cross on public land violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” said Monica Miller, senior counsel with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “This cross sends a clear and exclusionary message of government preference for Christianity over all other religions.”
“Pensacola’s cross is a clear violation of the separation of state and church,” said FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler. “We’re thankful to be working with courageous Pensacola residents to end the city’s unconstitutional religious favoritism.”
According to the lawsuit, the white Christian cross dominates the public park, where it is maintained by the city. The cross is also the site of numerous Easter Sunrise services, frequently co-hosted by Christian churches. A plaque specifically referencing Easter sits at the base of a platform near the cross.
“A Christian cross on public land marginalizes the growing numbers of non-Christian Americans while wasting taxpayer dollars on maintaining a divisive display,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “The government should treat all theist and nontheist groups in the community equally. Favoring one over others is clear discrimination.”
“There are tax-free churches throughout Pensacola where this pinnacle symbol of Christianity may be appropriately displayed,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “But when a city park serving all citizens—nonreligious, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian—contains a towering Latin cross, this sends a message of exclusion to non-Christians, and a corresponding message to Christians that they are favored citizens.”
Jehovah's Witnesses teach bigotry, compares gay marriage to terrorism.
4/3/2017-Update on the American Humanist Assoc vs Birdville ISD case. In March 2017
- A federal appeals court on Monday said a Texas school board may open its meetings with student-led prayers without violating the U.S. Constitution.
In a 3-0 decision, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an appeal by the American Humanist Association, which said the practice by the Birdville Independent School District violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.
The appeals court also reversed a lower court judge's denial of "qualified immunity" to school board members, and dismissed the case against them. Birdville serves Haltom City, Texas, a suburb of Dallas and Fort Worth.
“The panel’s ruling is unprecedented and directly conflicts with precedent from the other appeals courts that have addressed this issue,” said Monica Miller, Senior Counsel at the AHA’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “More importantly, the panel’s ruling contravenes binding Supreme Court precedent, which requires lower courts to distinguish public school students from adults, and apply heightened scrutiny to protect freedom of conscience from even subtle coercive pressures.”
A copy of the AHA’s legal briefs can be viewed here and here. The oral arguments can be heard here.