-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger
Northwest Rankin High School is a public high school located in Flowood, Mississippi. On Tuesday April 9th, a student, representing Pinelake Baptist Church, addressed an assembly at the school and showed a video of two young men who had been “saved” from drugs and sex. Several students reported the mandatory assembly, during school hours, to the Appignani Humanist Legal Center (AHLC). AHLC coordinator William Burgess sent a letter of condemnation to principal Charles Frazier.
Rankin County School District released a statement saying the assembly was not mandatory:
Our students have the freedom to organize student-led and planned meetings and the assembly in question was student-led and organized.
However, the AHLC letter claims that the assembly was mandatory and an e-mail, shown here with names redacted, from Frazier to faculty members bears this out. As the AHLC letter notes: “Making attendance voluntary would not cure the constitutional infirmity.” This is borne out by the Court’s opinion in Lee v. Weisman (1992), where J. Kennedy wrote in the opinion of the Court: “the government may no more use social pressure to enforce orthodoxy than it may use more direct means.” The school can take no part any private student meetings promoting religion.
The AHLC letter notes that having a student deliver the presentation does not “absolve the school and its officials from liability.” That the presentation was school-sponsored and held on school property during class-time is sufficient for a violation of the Establishment Clause. The violation is exacerbated by Frazier’s promoting student attendance of the assembly as a requirement.
The AHLC letter also claims that several students, who tried to leave, were harassed by a principal and told to sit back down. One has to admire the students’ courage, in the face of official intimidation, in attempting to escape the proselytizing.
In her concurrence in Lynch v. Donnelly (1984), J. O’Connor wrote:
The purpose prong of the Lemon test asks … whether, irrespective of government’s actual purpose, the practice under review in fact conveys a message of endorsement or disapproval. An affirmative answer to either question should render the challenged practice invalid.
Clearly, school officials used the authority of their office to require and maintain attendance at a Christian proselytizing meeting. This is a blatant example of Christian privilege and a violation of the Establishment Clause. The Rankin County School District better rein in Frazier, or they’ll have to use taxpayer funds to pay for defense lawyers in a civil suit.
The intent of the Establishment Clause is found in the words of the founders, whose envisioned a “perfect separation” between church and state. The progression towards that “perfect separation” requires constant vigilance. History shows us that those in power will use that power to maintain their dominance. New converts are essential for religions to maintain the status quo. Let religion obtain those converts using the persuasion by argument, rather than the coercion by authority. The historical predominance of the latter testifies to the ineffectiveness of the former.
H/T: Hemant Mehta.