The Greenville County school district says it is working to prepare a response to a humanist group that sent a cease-and-desist letter to a Taylors elementary school over a 5th-grade graduation that was hosted at a Baptist college.
The American Humanist Association sent the letter to Mountain View Elementary School Tuesday, saying it had been approached by unidentified parents who were concerned about the ceremony held in a church at the North Greenville University campus. North Greenville is affiliated with the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
The letter says two prayers at the May 30 ceremony were also “clearly unconstitutional” because they violated the mandate separating church and state.
“When you have a public school event in such a predominantly Christian environment, it really sends the message to those who aren’t Christian that they aren’t welcome there,” the group’s attorney Monica Miller told South Carolina Radio Network.
The district’s attorneys are reviewing the complaint and will respond, according to Greenville County Schools spokesman Oby Lyles. However, he said district officials had previously made it clear prayers are not allowed at school-sponsored events.
“Principals are provided in-service and information regarding the… need to ensure that school activities do not advance, prefer, or promote religion,” Lyles said in an emailed statement, “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,” the email concluded.
Miller said the letter is not meant as an attack on religion, but is about upholding constitutional principles.
But it finishes with a veiled threat.”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.”