In American Humanist Association v. Greenville County School District, (D SC, Dec. 12, 2017), in a case on remand from the 4th Circuit (see prior posting), a South Carolina federal district court held that a South Carolina school district’s practice of holding elementary school graduation ceremonies in the Christian Chapel of a local university violates the Establishment Clause. The court awarded plaintiffs $1 in nominal damages. The court said in part:… [T]his ruling is limited to the specific facts of this case and should not be construed as a bright line rule regarding a school district’s use of a church-owned facility…. The fact that the district chose to hold the ceremony (which included school-endorsed Christian prayers) in a clearly Christian place of worship in the presence of religious iconography, including, among other things, a cross on the podium and eight stained glass windows depicting Christian imagery, only further created a likelihood that observers would perceive the district as endorsing a particular set of religious beliefs. There has been no showing that the chapel was the only available venue for the graduation ceremony, and in view of the overall circumstances of the event, there can be no doubt that the setting in which the ceremony occurred conveyed a message of religious endorsement and created a likelihood that the school-aged children would perceive a link between church and state. In a prior opinion in the case, the court had concluded student-led prayer at the school’s past graduation ceremonies was unconstitutional.  In this case, the court held that the organizational plaintiff has standing to challenge the school’s revised prayer policy as it is being applied.  Plaintiffs claim that as implemented, the revised policy merely continues past practices.  The court ordered the parties to attempt mediation before proceeding further. American Humanist Association issued a press release announcing the opinion.



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