ACLU Challenges Official Promotion of Religion in South Carolina Public Schools

December 5, 2011 3:46 pm

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COLUMBIA, SC – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of South Carolina filed a lawsuit today challenging a pervasive practice of school-sponsored prayer, preaching and religious activities in the Chesterfield County School District. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a student and his father who are atheists and have been ostracized for their objection to repeated official religious events and activities at New Heights Middle School.

In September, students at New Heights were compelled to attend a worship rally that featured a sermon delivered by a Christian minister and the Christian rapper known as “B-SHOC” who performs songs like “Jesus Lean,” “Crazy Bout God” and “Christ-Like Cruisin.” Students were encouraged to pray and sign a pledge dedicating themselves to Jesus. The assembly follows regular practices at New Heights and throughout the district in which teachers and staff routinely incorporate prayer and proselytizing into school events and criticize and harass students who do not claim to be Christians.

“My child deserves an educational environment that is welcoming and safe, no matter what he believes,” said Jonathan Anderson, whose son J.A. is a student in the district. “All families are free to raise their children with the beliefs that are important to them, but nobody should feel different or harassed when they go to school.” J.A. is referred to by his initials in the complaint to protect his privacy.

In a video of the B-SHOC performance that was posted on YouTube, the rapper brags that “324 kids at this school have made a decision for Jesus Christ.” A youth evangelist who participated in the assembly is seen telling parents “Your principal went to me today, and I said, ‘How are you getting away with this?’ and he said, ‘I’m not…I want these kids to know that eternal life is real, and I don’t care what happens to me, they’re going to hear it today.” B-SHOC removed the video from his account after the ACLU sent a letter of concern to the school in September. When J.A. told a teacher that he objected to the assembly because he is an atheist he was told, “I wouldn’t brag about that.”

“Principal Larry Stinson and the staff of Chesterfield County schools were well aware that they were abusing their positions by promoting one set of beliefs to students,” said Victoria Middleton, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina. “It is not the place of educators to force children to worship one particular way and make any student who disagrees feel unwelcome.”

Many assemblies, choral concerts and sporting events at Chesterfield County schools open with a school-sponsored prayer. In addition, J.A. has been ordered, as punishment for forgetting his belt and his gym clothing, to copy religious essays proclaiming a belief in God and stating that he was thankful God would help him remember these items in the future.

Staff have also improperly organized and encouraged students to attend religious events and organizations that meet on campus. When Anderson complained about the proselytizing his son was being exposed to, Stinson told him he needed to “get right with God.” Both Anderson and his son have been harassed for speaking out.

“Public schools are not Sunday schools, and teachers should be protecting students from this type of unconstitutional religious coercion instead of using the school as a pulpit,” said Heather L. Weaver, staff attorney with the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “Public schools should be a place for education, not indoctrination.”

More information on this case, including footage of the worship rally, can be seen at

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