South Carolina School District Agrees to Stop Proselytizing Students

January 12, 2012

ACLU Filed Lawsuit After Student Complained of School-Sponsored Assemblies Aiming to ‘Save’ Kids

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

CHARLESTON, SC – The board of the Chesterfield County School District voted tonight to adopt a proposed settlement agreement that would put an end to the district’s pervasive practice of school-sponsored prayer, preaching and religious activities aimed at students.

The agreement would resolve a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of South Carolina on behalf of a student and his father, both atheists, who have been ostracized for their objection to repeated official religious events and activities at New Heights Middle School and throughout the school district. Under the agreement, the district would be subject to a court order, or consent decree, requiring officials to comply with the law in this area. The proposed consent decree will be submitted to a federal district court for final approval.

“I’m relieved that the school is taking the appropriate measures to make sure that my child – and any child – will feel comfortable and welcome no matter what he believes,” said Jonathan Anderson, whose son J.A. is a student in the district. J.A. is referred to by his initials to protect his privacy while the lawsuit is pending.

J.A. felt alienated when students at New Heights Middle School 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 throughout the district in which teachers and staff routinely incorporate prayer and proselytizing into school events. Some staff also have criticized students who do not claim to be Christians.

“The district has done the right thing by acknowledging that school officials cannot use their positions of influence to persuade students to devote themselves to one particular religion,” said Victoria Middleton, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina. “We're glad that the school has agreed to a reasonable settlement.”

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 to the school in September.

“Every family has the right to instill their own values and beliefs in their children, but in the classroom, every child should be welcomed with the same degree of respect, no matter what he or she believes,” said Heather L. Weaver, staff attorney with the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “Public schools should be focused on providing children with a quality education, not indoctrinating them through religious coercion.”

More information on this case, including footage of the worship rally, can be seen at www.aclu.org/religion-belief/anderson-v-chesterfield-county-school-district

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