The ACLU has sued the Chesterfield County School District, accusing it of unconstitutionally promoting Christianity during a school rally earlier this year.
The group filed the suit Monday in a federal court in Florence.
ACLU South Carolina executive director Victoria Middleton said students at New Heights Middle School in Jefferson were pressured to attend the rally, which featured Christian rapper B-Shoc and youth evangelist Christian Chapman.
“Students who did not want to attend the rally during school hours were told that they could go to the detention room,” Middleton said. “Or they were pressured to participate. Our view is that, in public schools, it’s not the role of educators to force children to worship one way or another.”
The organization filed a Freedom of Information request in September, looking for more information about the district’s policies on prayer during its assemblies. The request came after the ACLU said it learned some parents were upset about the New Heights assembly. The suit was filed on behalf of Jonathan Anderson and his son who attends the school. Both are atheists.
The ACLU also posted a video by B-Shoc, whose birth name is Bryan Edmonds. In the video, Edmonds says of the rally, “Because of this, people in public schools are going to get to know who Jesus Christ is.”
The ACLU named as defendants New Heights’s principal Larry Stinson, the Chesterfield County School District, the district superintendent John Williams, and the school board. The ACLU said it is concerned that the assembly is not a one-time incident, especially when it learned B-Shoc would be working assemblies for three other schools in the district.
School district officials said they had not yet read the lawsuit.
The video also included Chapman speaking to parents at the school about the rally. He implied Stinson was well aware that educators expected backlash for the event.
“I said, ‘How’re you getting away with this?’ And he said, ‘I’m not,'” Chapman tells the parents in the video, “He (Stinson) said, ‘I’m tired of being a hypocrite and I’m tired of playing the game… I want these kids to know that the eternal life is real. And I don’t care what happens to me, they’re going to hear it today.'”
Middleton said the video shows that New Heights’s principal purposely invited a youth minister to speak, knowing that it would violate district rules.
“The principal and the staff were aware that they were encouraging kids to take this particular path,” Middleton said. “Young people are vulnerable, but they have constitutional rights to believe as they choose.”