The debate about school prayer in Mississippi has centered on a lawsuit over prayer at school assemblies that was settled in federal court in 2013.
The American Humanist Association filed the suit on behalf of a Rankin County, Mississippi, high school student who claimed the district proselytized at school assemblies, making her feel uncomfortable and pressed to participate.
Administrators at Northwest Rankin High School in Flowood admitted that they had violated the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution requiring separation of church and state, WAPT-TV reported
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The student, Magdalene Bedi, had complained that Christian students had discussed their faith at school assemblies and that she was not allowed to leave those assemblies, which included Christian prayers.
"As a result of the defendants' actions surrounding the prayer at the awards ceremony, I felt incredibly embarrassed, humiliated and frustrated," Bedi said in her legal complaint.
The American Humanist Association noted that it was satisfied
with the court's ruling.
“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,” William Burgess, legal coordinator of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, said in a statement. “There was clear evidence that these Christian assemblies were endorsed and organized by the school. To continue to deny a constitutional violation had taken place was untenable.”
The judgment from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi required the district pay Bedi's legal fees and abide by the Constitution.
She said she was satisfied with the settlement.
“A lot has been accomplished and I’m pleased with the outcome of the suit,” Bedi said in a statement. “I'm grateful for the school's maturity throughout this ordeal and I look forward to graduating with them on a positive note. No one should have to question their rights in a public school and I think Northwest [Rankin High School] realizes this now.”
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Prior to the settlement, the state's governor at the time, Phil Bryant, had signed a bill passed by state lawmakers that would have school districts allow limited public forums at school and sporting events where they could offer expressions of faith, The Daily Caller reported
It noted that the new policy required districts to issue a disclaimer statement that read that student speech "does not reflect the endorsement, sponsorship, position or expression of the district."
The ACLU said at the time that the law opened the state up to likely legal challenges. Bryant, as governor, responded to that criticism, defending that the state would be "honored to spend (state funds) defending religious freedoms," the Daily Caller said.
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