FFRF, students, bring suit over graduation and school board prayers

FFRF and one of its South Carolina members filed suit on May 30, 2012, against School District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties challenging a district graduation prayer policy. The policy allowed prayer by a vote of the graduating class. Matthew Nielson, an Irmo High School senior at the time, was the lead plaintiff.

A district policy titled "School Ceremonies and Observations" set guidelines for benedictions and invocations at graduations and athletic events: Use of prayer "will be determined by a majority vote of the graduating senior class with the advice and counsel of the principal." The school facilitated a vote by students and the graduation ceremony on May 30, 2012, contained a prayer.

Two other Irmo High students joined the suit June 11, 2012. FFRF and the students, represented by local counsel Aaron Kozloski, asked the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, Columbia Division, to declare the district's policy null and void, enjoin it from further school-sponsored graduation prayers and to award damages, costs and attorney fees. On Nov. 16, 2012, the plaintiffs amended the suit to also challenge prayers before Board of Trustees meetings.

The District and the plaintiffs subsequently settled the graduation prayer issue once the District rescinded its prayer policy in August of 2013 and paid the plaintiffs’ attorney fees.

On August 7, 2014, the plaintiffs filed for summary judgment on the issue of prayer at school board meetings. "A school board is not the same as a state legislature or a city council," the brief states. "Rather, it is by design and activity created solely for the governance and operation of a public school system. As such, school board prayers are scrutinized for constitutionality under tradition Establishment Clause jurisprudence.”

Judge Cameron McGowan Currie presides over the case.

Amended Complaint
Second Amended Complaint
FFRF Summary Judgment Brief
District Summary Judgment Brief
District Summary Judgment Response Brief
FFRF Summary Judgment Response Brief


FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator


FFRF privacy statement


FFRF is a member of Atheist Alliance International.