In 2013, a Mississippi high school student sued the Rankin County School District and principal of the school over a series of Christian assemblies held at the school. The district agreed that it had violated the student’s First Amendment rights and settled the lawsuit.
Fast forward to July of this year, when a U. S. District Court Judge ruled that the school district was in violation of the agreement when, in 2014, the school held an awards ceremony where a Christian preacher delivered a prayer and again when the district helped Gideons hand out Bibles at an elementary school.
A Federal Court Order was last week issued to the Rankin County School District, which states, in part:
“Defendants are permanently enjoined from including prayer, religious sermons or other activities in any school sponsored event including but not limited to assemblies, graduations, awards ceremonies, athletic events and any other school event.”
The judge further ordered that the district pay $7500 for violations, in addition to attorneys’ fees and costs. The order also states that the district will be fined $10,000 per violation if the agreement is violated in the future.
Enter now the Brandon High School Band, whose school is a part of the Rankin County School District. Part of the band’s halftime show during football games this year was to have included the Christian hymn, “How Great Thou Art”. But after last week’s court order, the band has been benched.
Band director, Tim Cagle, says that when he chose the show last February, it was approved by the Rankin County School Board. But after that court order, the board had to rescind its approval. School Board president, Ann Sturdivant, says the board “had no choice”.
A statement from the district said, “The Rankin County School Board and District Office are very saddened students will not be able to perform their halftime show they have worked so hard on this summer.”
Needless to say, this was all the talk around town this summer. On Friday night, Brandon High played Ocean Springs in a home game. At halftime, when the band took the field and got into formation, they stood there, instruments at their sides.
But something very heart-warming happened – one by one, members of the crowd began to stand, and as they stood up in the stands, they began to hum, and then sing the hymn, “How Great Thou Art”. After all, First Amendment Rights apply to everyone.