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Graduation Venue Lawsuit
Parents of a Mountain View Elementary School student are suing the school district of Greenville County over the school having its 5th grade graduation ceremony in the chapel of a local Baptist university. The event has been held at the venue for the past few years, and included opening and closing prayers.
The parents, who have not released their names over fear of backlash from religious groups against their child, contacted the American Humanist Association (AHA) when they attended the event and were shocked at the religious iconography at the venue and the use of prayer during the event. Mountain View Elementary is a public school.
"This is not about the fact that the speakers were Christian and the venue was Christian, the problem is that the speech was religious and the venue was religious, it doesn't matter which religion it is," says Bill Burgess, attorney for the AHA.
The AHA issued a letter to the school district requesting it cease the practice in the future, citing previous U.S. federal and supreme court decisions and threatening legal action if the venue and program were not changed. The school district responded, but did not guarantee that the venue would not be used again. Further, it said that prohibiting prayer would be showing hostility toward religion. WLOS could not determine whether whether the prayer was student-initiated, but it was a planned part of the ceremony and was included on the event's program.
The program and letters of correspondence between the organizations can be found in the lawsuit here.
Canvassing the line of cars with parents waiting to pick up their Mountain View students on Thursday, reaction to the event's location and inclusion of prayer was mixed. Some parents weren't bothered by the practice, with one mother saying "It's the South, I'm not surprised." Another parent said she "wasn't bothered by it either way."
But many parents were supportive of the school. Nikki Simpson is a Christian and wishes there was more prayer in school.
"You're always gonna have an issue with somebody believing this and somebody believing that. If you're offended about it, maybe you should take your kids out and home school, or private school."
Attorneys estimate that if the case goes to trial and through an appeals process, it could end up costing county taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. Greenville County School District now has 21 days from the date of the lawsuit (September 11th) to respond.