I Filed a Lawsuit Against My School District for Allowing Christian Prayers During Graduation, and It’s Finally Over December 14, 2014

I Filed a Lawsuit Against My School District for Allowing Christian Prayers During Graduation, and It’s Finally Over

This is a guest post by Max Nielson. Max is a student at the College of Charleston.

In 2012, I filed a federal lawsuit against South Carolina’s Lexington/Richland School District 5, where I attended Irmo High School, because I wanted to do something to change the district-wide policy of holding Christian prayers during graduation ceremonies. (They let the majority-Christian senior class vote on the prayer, but the outcome was never in doubt.)

The lawsuit was amended to include the district practice of holding preacher-led prayers at board meetings after I recruited two younger District 5 students, Dakota McMillan and Jacob Zupan, to maintain legal standing after my graduation.

Jacob Zupan, Max Nielson, and Dakota McMillan at the start of the lawsuit

In August of 2013, the district agreed to stop holding graduation prayers and changed their policy to reflect the South Carolina Student-Led Message Act, which prevents district administrators from altering the content of a student’s speech. They paid our side’s legal fees, too. The new policy could still allow prayer if it’s part of a student’s graduation speech, but it prevents a formal Christian prayer from being on the agenda for the ceremony.

U.S. District Judge Cameron Currie dismissed the remainder of the case a couple of weeks ago on December 1, citing our lack of standing on the issue of prayer at board meetings since none of the plaintiffs had attended recent meetings.

Despite that, I am happy about the progress we were able to make towards a more secular school district, and grateful for the help and support I received from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Aaron Kozloski, other secular activists, and my fellow students at Irmo High School.

This lawsuit was my introduction into the world of secular activism, and over the course of the suit, I have started a Secular Student Alliance group at the College of Charleston, interned for the Secular Coalition for America and Center for Inquiry, and served (since the summer of 2013) as the Secular Coalition for America’s social media coordinator. I hope that my continued involvement in the freethought movement inspires others to take up the cause of secular activism.

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