A South Carolina elementary school is being sued by the American Humanist Association for holding its fifth grade graduation ceremony inside a Christian university’s chapel, instead of its own “hot, crowded” cafeteria.
The school also violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by promoting prayer, the AHA claims.
Last school year, Mountain View Elementary School decided to hold its fifth grade graduation inside the chapel of North Greenville University, a Christian school. Student-led prayers were part of the ceremony.
The parents of one of the students objected to the ceremony, alleging that their daughter’s Constitutional rights were violated. The AHA sent a letter to the school on their behalf, asking for a cancellation of all future events at North Greenville University. When Mountain View refused to comply, the AHA filed suit.
School officials said that have no choice but to use the Christian university’s chapel, since Mountain View lacks adequate facilities. In past years the school hosted graduation ceremonies inside the school cafeteria, a “hot, crowded and limiting environment,” according to The Greenville News.
The cafeteria only fits 140 people, and is uncomfortable. The chapel, in contrast, fits 2,000.
“My decision had nothing whatsoever to do with NGU’s status as a religiously affiliated institution,” said Mountain View Principal Jennifer Gibson in an affidavit.
But the AHA’s suit–which seeks unspecified punitive damages–claims that “holding a public school graduation (for young and impressionable elementary students, no less) in a place of worship such as a Christian church, adorned with overtly sectarian symbols, is itself unconstitutional,” according to previous Supreme Court cases.
Gibson and the AHA disagreed over whether a suitable alternative location exists. The association believes that a nearby community center would work, but Gibson has maintained that the AHA’s suggestion is a bad fit, considering the number of people expected to attend future graduations.
The AHA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
UPDATE: A federal judge denied the group’s motion Tuesday.