Atheist group, Rankin schools settle

November 27, 2013 10:12:08 AM

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JACKSON -- An atheist group and the Rankin County School District have settled a lawsuit over allegations that high school students were forced to attend religion-tinged on-campus programs. 

 

A lawsuit filed in April by the American Humanist Association asked a federal judge to prohibit the district from having religious assemblies. The district had denied that assemblies were mandatory and said they were legal. 

 

But in a court filing Nov. 22 in U.S. District Court in Jackson, the school district agreed to comply with its Religion in Public Schools Policy. 

 

School board attorney John G. Corlew said Tuesday that the policy was adopted in July. 

 

"The school board enacted a policy to make it crystal clear it did not sponsor religious activities," Corlew said Tuesday. "When this issue arose, the school board immediately took action and crafted a very careful policy so that nobody would be in either position." 

 

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of a 16-year-old Northwest Rankin junior identified only as M.B. in the complaint. 

 

"We are pleased that the school's administrators have admitted that they violated the Constitution and agreed to continuing court oversight to prevent future violations," said William Burgess, legal coordinator of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, said in a statement. 

 

School officials said an April 10 assembly wasn't explicitly religious, but a video provided by the group to The Associated Press purportedly of the assembly shows a student leader standing up in front of a group of students and talking about the role that Jesus has played in his life. 

 

The lawsuit described the students as representatives of Pinelake Church, the largest Southern Baptist church in Mississippi. The church's main campus is in Flowood near the school. The church, though, said it did not conduct the assembly.