Student Asks Court to Award Her Over $20K After Public School Opens Awards Ceremony With Christian Prayer

A secular group has filed a motion of contempt against a Mississippi school district for allegedly having Christian prayers at an awards ceremony for students in April.

The American Humanist Association's Appignani Humanist Legal Center filed the motion Wednesday against the Rankin County School District in U.S. District Court.

Monica Miller, attorney with the legal center, told The Christian Post that the AHA became aware of the awards ceremony after being contacted by a student attendee.

"The student plaintiff attended the April 2014 awards ceremony held by the school district and immediately contacted me," said Miller. "The defendants will have an opportunity to respond to our motion. The court will decide whether or not to hold a hearing."

According to the motion, the Christian components found at the ceremony last month were in violation of a consent decree stemming from a decision last November.

The November decision came from a lawsuit brought by high school students who successfully argued that Rankin County had sponsored events that violated the Establishment Clause.

"Defendants violated said consent decree by holding an awards ceremony on campus and during class hours that included a prayer by a Christian Reverend," reads the motion in part.

"After the students were seated, they were told to stand up for the prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. … They were then told to bow their heads to pray. … The prayer referred to 'God' several times and alluded to Jesus."

The motion specifically calls for "coercive and remedial" sanctions on the Rankin County District for having Christian components in the awards ceremony.

"Plaintiff seeks to impose civil monetary sanctions on defendants in order to coerce them into complying with the consent decree and to compensate plaintiff for the deprivation of her constitutional rights," reads the motion.

"In addition to attorneys' fees … plaintiff seeks $1,000 from each defendant to compensate her for the violation of the consent decree (and her constitutional rights) and asks the court to award her $20,000 for each future violation of the consent decree, to coerce defendants into compliance."

Rankin County School District did not return comment to The Christian Post by press time. However the District did release a statement to local media.

"Our students have the freedom to organize student-led and planned meetings and the assembly in question was student led and organized. The meetings were not mandatory," reads the statement.

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