Appeals court revives suit challenging SC school prayer

05/17/2014 12:00 AM

05/16/2014 7:49 PM

A federal appeals court has kept alive an Upstate family’s attempt to stop Greenville school officials from holding elementary-school graduation ceremonies in a university chapel and including prayer in the program.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond on Friday vacated Senior U.S. District Judge G. Ross Anderson Jr.’s ruling denying the American Humanist Association’s request for a preliminary injunction.

The appeals court said in its ruling the district court provided no legal analysis for its decision denying the injunction. The appeals court ordered the case be considered by a different judge.

Greenville school officials said Friday night they were reviewing the appeals court ruling.

The humanist association and the unnamed family of a Greenville County fifth-grader sued the school district last year.

They asked a judge to block Mountain View Elementary from holding ceremonies at a chapel at North Greenville University, a Southern Baptist-affiliated school, and allowing student-led prayers.

The suit was filed by Jill Doe, a former fifth-grade student at Mountain View Elementary, her parents, John and Jane Doe, and the humanist association.

The plaintiffs alleged that the district infringed upon their First Amendment Establishment Clause by holding Mountain View’s graduation ceremony at a religious venue and incorporating prayer as a part of the official graduation program, according to court filings.

In essence, that clause says the government cannot make laws or approve practices that establish religion, said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor.

In court filings, the plaintiffs in the Greenville school case moved for a preliminary injunction. They also moved to keep the family’s identities under seal, according to court filings.

After a hearing, the district court denied both motions without a written order, the appeals court said in its ruling.

The plaintiffs appealed the denial of both motions and asked that the case be remanded and reassigned to a different district judge, according to court records.

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