TAYLORS, SC — A Taylors elementary school has been sent a cease-and-desist letter after parents complained to a humanist organization that the schools graduation ceremony was held at a religious-affiliated university.
The American Humanist Association received a complaint from two Mountain View Elementary parents about the fifth-grade graduation ceremony May 30 in North Greenville Universitys chapel that included two prayers, said Monica Miller, an association attorney.
Oby Lyles, spokesman for the Greenville County school district, said the districts attorney was looking into the matter and would prepare a response to the association.
North Greenville University is affiliated with the South Carolina Baptist Convention. The schools actions were clearly unconstitutional, according to the letter.
The main problem is that youve got school-aged children attending a school-sponsored event thats supposed to be secular, not only are they confronted with two prayers, but theyre also in a building thats surrounded by not just symbolism, but with religious, overtly Christian symbolism, Miller said in an interview.
Thats a problem, especially when youve got younger children there.
The parents were very offended and taken aback, she said.
Lyles said principals are provided in-service training and information regarding the First Amendments Establishment Clause and the need to ensure that school activities dont advance, prefer or promote religion.
Through those efforts we strive to balance the Establishment Clause with the protected ability for individuals to express private religious speech, he said. For example, a school should not endorse the use of prayer by students at any school-sponsored event.
The district will continue to monitor school-sponsored programs to ensure compliance with the law and will take appropriate action if needed.
The letter was addressed to district Superintendent Burke Royster and school Principal Jennifer Gibson.
Gibson couldnt be reached for comment. A spokesman for North Greenville University couldnt be reached for comment.
Miller said the association hopes to hear back from the school or the school district within two weeks and that the ceremony at NGU was an isolated incident.
Staff writer Ron DeKett contributed to this report.