Wednesday, June 22, 2016

4th Circuit Revives Some Claims In Challenge To School District's Graduation Practices

American Humanist Association v. Greenville County School District, (4th Cir., June 21, 2016), is a challenge to the graduation ceremony prayer policy of the Greenville County, South Carolina school district, as well as to its practice of holding some graduation ceremonies at a religious chapel on a local college campus.  In a largely procedural ruling, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated in part the district court's dismissal of the case.  On the challenge to graduation prayer, the court held that because the individual plaintiffs named in the lawsuit had moved out of state while the appeal was pending so their children no longer attended school in the district, the suit was moot as to them.  However it remanded for further discovery to determine whether the organizational plaintiff, American Humanist Association, continues to have standing because of the interests of other of its members.

The appeals court agreed with the district court that the claim for injunctive relief to bar holding of future graduation ceremonies in religious venues should be dismissed because while the case was still pending in district court plaintiffs moved within the district to schools that had never used religious venues for school events.  However the appeals court held that plaintiffs continued to have standing to pursue their claim for nominal damages because of past use of the religious chapel for graduation. American Humanist Association issued a press release announcing the decision. (See prior related posting.) Greenville News reports on the decision.