FLORENCE, S.C. — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit Monday claiming that public schools in Chesterfield County are unconstitutionally promoting Christianity.
The suit, brought on behalf of a student and his father, who are atheists, stems from a rally this year at New Heights Middle School that featured a Christian rapper and a youth evangelist.
It alleged the district “has a longstanding custom, policy and practice of coercing and encouraging religious activities, as well as conveying religious messages throughout district schools.”
The district, the school board, local Superintendent John Williams and New Middle Principal Larry Stinson are named as defendants.
The suit asks the court to block the defendants from “proselytizing during class and school-sponsored events,” from urging students to participate in religious events and from “otherwise unconstitutionally endorsing religion.”
District spokesman Ken Buck said school officials were not aware of the suit.
The suit was filed on behalf of Jonathan Anderson and his son, a student at New Heights Middle. According to the lawsuit, the boy had a choice of attending the rally or reporting to the in-school suspension room. The boy “felt pressured to attend” because being sent to the suspension room “was basically intended to punish them for refusing to go to the religious event.” Students would have to sit silently and do work that students attending the rally would not have to do, the suit claimed.
On his way to the concert, the student’s teacher said: “Isn’t this going to be fun?” When the student said he was an atheist, he was told by the teacher: “I wouldn’t brag about that,” the lawsuit said.
It adds that the boy was was given religious tracts from volunteers and teachers on his way out of the assembly.