A humanist organization sent a cease-and-desist letter to a Greenville County elementary school because of where they had their fifth-grade graduation and what was said during the ceremony.
According to the American Humanist Association, the graduation ceremony for Mountain View Elementary School was held on May 30 at a chapel on the campus of North Greenville University and included two prayers.
AHA said they received a complaint from a Mountain View parent about the ceremony, prompting them to send the letter to the Greenville County Schools superintendent and the school's principal.
"It has been made clear by the federal courts that events such as these violate the constitutional principle of separation of church and state," said Monica Miller, an attorney and legal consultant with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, in a release. "When a public school sponsors an event, it is the administration's responsibility to ensure separation of church and state is maintained."
AHA said the ceremony's schedule of events included the prayers and the location of the setting in a Christian worship space is a violation of the separation of church and state.
In the letter dated June 10, Miller states the school could face a federal lawsuit. The letter also states, "If you are interested in avoiding such litigation, please notify us in writing, within two weeks of the date of this letter, that you will no longer hold graduation or other school events in churches or include prayers as part of graduation ceremonies."
North Greenville President Jimmy Epting said the school makes the chapel available to Mountain View free of charge because it seats nearly 2,000 people and can accommodate all who want to come. He said the ceremony has been held there for years without any problems.
Epting said he feels AHA's targeting of the school district is part of a larger attack on Christian values in the Upstate from people outside of the community.
FOX Carolina spoke with fifth-grade student EmmaKate Edwards, who recited one of the prayers. EmmaKate's mother Kelly Edwards said her daughter wrote the prayer herself and was listed on the event's program as the closing prayer.
EmmaKate's parents said they were proud of their daughter. The prayer read as follows:
"Thank you for coming! Let us pray. Dear Lord thank you for this day and all your many blessings upon us. Lord bless each and everyone of our teachers, leaders and parents. Lead, guide and direct us as we begin this new adventure into middle school. We give you the praise for all our accomplishments. In Jesus name I pray. Amen."
Greenville County Schools spokesperson Oby Lyles released the following statement regarding the letter and complaint:
"We are in receipt of the letter and our attorney is looking into the matter and will prepare a response about this specific situation to the organization.
"Principals are provided in-service and information regarding the Establishment Clause and the need to ensure that school activities do not advance, prefer, or promote religion. Through those efforts, we strive to balance the Establishment Clause with the protected ability for individuals to express private religious speech. For example, a school should not endorse the use of prayer by students at any school-sponsored event. The district will continue to monitor school-sponsored programs to ensure compliance with the law and will take appropriate action if needed."
AHA said the parents who filed the complaint want to remain anonymous. Epting said the school is welcome back, but a decision would have to be made by the district.
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