A high school in central Mississippi finds itself in court after allegedly holding a mandatory religious assembly earlier this month.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed by the American Humanist Association on Wednesday, students were given no advance notice about the nature of the assembly, but were told that attendance was required. It soon became clear, however, when a member of Pinelake Baptist Church opened his presentation by talking about finding hope in Jesus Christ.
The assembly allegedly also warned students against premarital sex, pornography, and homosexuality. As the lawsuit detailed, the program included a video of four speakers explaining how their troubled lives had been saved by Christianity:
The first speaker talked about his addiction to pornography. The second speaker talked about issues with his father. The third speaker also talked about problems with his family,as well as promiscuity and suicide. The fourth speaker said he had a great family that introduced him to the church. He said at first he did not think he could measure up to Jesus Christ so he sought hope in “other things.”
The first speaker said he used to find hope in “cars and clothes.” The second said he “used to find hope in people” and in “other guys.” He looked to these people for “brotherly love” and “fatherly love.” He said he then struggled with suicidal thoughts, and resorted to “cutting himself.” [...]
About five minutes into the video, Speaker One stated: “But now I find my hope in something that’s more eternal that is not in this world.”
In turn, each of the speakers explained how turning to Jesus Christ solved their problems and recommended that other people turn to Jesus Christ as well.
Soon after, “the assembly immediately turned into a full-blown lecture on the supposed miracles, powers, and teachings of Jesus Christ and the Church Representative encouraged all students to find sanctity in him,” and no one was permitted to leave. “The School’s truancy officer, Jeff White (“Officer White”), harassed several students who attempted to leave and told them to sit back down,” read the complaint.
According to the complaint, the school repeated the same assembly for 11th graders on April 10. A few juniors had been tipped off that it would be a religious assembly and “attempted to go to the library or another classroom instead but they were prevented from doing so by Officer White.” A third mandatory assembly was held this Monday for 10th graders, the suit alleges.
The Supreme Court ruled more than 50 years ago in Engel v Vitale that school-led prayer is an unconstitutional infringement on the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, a decision they reaffirmed in the 1992 case Lee v. Weisman.