The Greenville County School District in South Carolina has some of the dumbest school board members in the country and they keep proving it. This week, they made the idiotic decision to reject a settlement opportunity in a costly legal lawsuit because… Jesus.
You can read all the details of this case right here, but here’s the gist of it: Administrators in the district were promoting religion at graduation ceremonies — including by allowing students to deliver the prayers, holding those events in chapels, and urging attendees to participate in the prayers.
After a six-year legal battle over this issue, U.S. District Judge Bruce Hendricks knew she couldn’t simply trust administrators to just do the right thing, so last summer, she laid out some very specific guidelines for how the district needed to proceed with graduation ceremonies. I’d paraphrase them like this:
1) No prayers can be listed in the official graduation programs. No euphemisms (like “inspirational reading”) either.
2) School officials can’t encourage prayers during graduation ceremonies in any way.
3) If students speak at graduation, they must be chosen under religiously neutral criteria that’s listed in writing.
4) School officials can’t give those kids copies of old remarks as a template for their own.
5) The parts of the graduation ceremonies that involve student messages must be printed the same way for every school in the District. (That way, one school can’t make a “mistake.”) And none of those programs should direct the audience to stand during students’ remarks.
6) If administrators see the students’ speeches in advance for any reason, they must make sure prayers aren’t in them.
7) Students who wish to include prayer in their speeches cannot ask the audience to participate with them (like by standing or bowing their heads). And if there is prayer in the students’ speeches, school officials cannot join in.
8) All graduation programs that include students’ remarks must say, “The views or opinions expressed by students during this program are their own and do not reflect the policy or position of the school District.”
9) District officials must give administrators at each school a copy of these guidelines in writing, and those administrators must give the guidelines to student speakers as well.
I would summarize all that even more succinctly: Formal prayers at graduation are forbidden. And if kids choose to include prayers in their speeches anyway, the administrator better have nothing to do with it. The just was just encouraging the district to follow the law. And since they couldn’t do that on their own, she spelled out exactly what that looked like.
At the time, the school board raised a fuss about the new rules, claiming they were unclear, caused “confusion,” and favored secular speech over religious speech — as if religious neutrality was somehow anti-Christian. But it didn’t matter. They lost. The American Humanist Association won.
As far as church/state separation goes, this was a pretty clear-cut case of bad behavior. Because the district wanted to fight it instead of admitting a mistake, they now owed the AHA a hell of a lot in legal fees. The number eventually came to $456,242.01.
That’s money the school district (or at least its insurance company) had to pay because officials couldn’t stop sticking God where He didn’t belong. Still, the district said it would appeal the fees.
Which brings us to this week.
There is currently a settlement offer on the table regarding the final bill. The details aren’t public — so it’s possible the American Humanist Association agreed to a lower amount in order to close this case for good — but the school board needs to approve whatever that amount is, even if it’s the full $456,242.01.
The district’s lawyer and superintendent urged board members to just agree to it because insurance will cover their costs.
“This agreement will not result in anything out of pocket for the school district,” Doug Webb, the school district’s long-time attorney, told trustees.
He and school district Superintendent Burke Royster strongly urged trustees to take the settlement.
But the board members won’t do it. On Tuesday, when it came to accepting the settlement offer, they voted 6-6… which means a majority didn’t support it and therefore the agreement was not approved.
Why on earth are they still fighting this? According to the Post and Courier, it’s because some board members still think they need to defend their faith.
… In opposition and prevailing in their argument that the Humanists were infringing on the community’s beliefs and standards were board chairwoman Lynda Leventis-Wells and trustees Joy Grayson, Roy Chamlee, Chuck Saylors and Pat Sudduth. Debi Bush also opposed the settlement but made no comment.
Leventis-Wells vowed never to come to terms with the Humanists even though, she acknowledged, the agreed-to terms fell “greatly in line” with the district’s current policies regarding expression of religion during the school day.
“Everyone said in the beginning, ‘Lynda, no matter what, appeal it to the highest court,’” Leventis-Wells said. “And I said, ‘I will. I will be for that. And I not only represent you, I also represent the way I feel.’”
The Christian arrogance in that statement is appalling. Sure, the settlement just makes us follow our own rules, BUT I HAVE TO KEEP FIGHTING FOR JESUS!
She kept talking, too, because ignorant people always think they’re the smartest ones in the room:
“I don’t like someone telling me what I can and cannot do, that is legal,” she said. “I am not breaking a law. I just want to, I want to pray. I want to pray. And I don’t want someone telling me how I can and cannot pray. Or what I can or cannot do.”
The district was breaking the law. And she is allowed to pray. No one was ever stopping her. Not even the AHA. She just can’t pray on behalf of the district or during a district event with a captive student audience. (Don’t worry! God can still hear silent prayers!… or so I’m told.)
If the district doesn’t agreement to the settlement offer, and they go through with an appeal — which they will undoubtedly lose because this isn’t a complicated case — it’ll just mean more wasted money for the district. It’s also possible their insurers won’t want to cover those additional costs since having selfish board members isn’t covered by most policies.
This is what happens when your community elects the worst possible people to the most important public offices. The students become an afterthought because the board members can’t get over their own selfishness.
(Image via Shutterstock. Large portions of this article were published earlier)