Several flagrant and serious legal violations at New Heights Middle School in Jefferson, S.C., are documented in the Freedom From Religion Foundation's Sept. 19 letter of complaint to Superintendent John Williams of the Chesterfield County School District. FFRF has received reports from multiple local complainants about religious activities at the school.
The violations include a Sept. 1 school assembly featuring Christian Chapman, a preacher and evangelist, and Christian rap artist B-SHOC, who says on his YouTube channel that "324 students got saved" at the assembly.
FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert notes that the assembly was promoted and described as a "worship rally" on the public school's website. The video also shows:
• Volunteers being trained by Pastor David Sanders. He tells them, “When it’s time for them to go to their next class, they gotta go, so you need to make sure you’re very brief, what decision did you make? Have prayer with them."
• Christian Chapman telling the students, “A relationship with Jesus is what you need more importantly than anything else.”
• Students lining up and volunteers praying with them and taking further information from the students and “[made] sure [they] were plugged into a church.”
Evidently, Principal Larry Stinson was aware of the questionable legality of holding a “worship rally” like this one during the school day, but he chose to schedule it anyway. He allegedly told Chapman that “I want these kids to know eternal life is real and I don’t care what happens to me, they’re gonna hear it today.” (at 3:58 in the B-SHOC video).
"Our complainants inform us that various pamphlets, cards and other written materials were handed out to the students," Markert noted. "In particular, fake money with proselytizing language was distributed by the assembly organizers to the students." A "million-dollar bill" asks, “THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION: WILL YOU GO TO HEAVEN WHEN YOU DIE? HERE’S A QUICK TEST. HAVE YOU EVER TOLD A LIE, STOLEN ANYTHING, OR USED GOD’S NAME IN VAIN? . . ."
The school's website also says "Connect with Christian Chapman and B-SHOC" and links to their religious sites.
"It is deeply troubling that Chesterfield County School District would allow this 'assembly' to take place. It is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion," Markert wrote. "The overtly religious and proselytizing nature of the program was explicit and known to the school’s administration before the program was scheduled. In fact, precisely because it was an evangelizing event, Principal Stinson scheduled it so that his students would 'know eternal life' and devote and recommit their lives to Christ.
9/11 memorial crosses
FFRF's letter also notes the Christian crosses erected on the school lawn for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The photo accompanying this press release was taken by a complainant Sept. 14.
"Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools," Markert wrote, citing specific legal precedent. "No court of final resort has ever upheld the government’s display of a Latin cross on public land as constitutional. The inherent religious significance of the Latin cross is undeniable and is not disguisable. No secular purpose, including memorializing a national tragedy, no matter how sincere, will detract from the overall message that the Latin cross stands for Christianity and the overall display promotes Christianity."
While it's laudable and appropriate for school officials and students to remember the victims of 9/11, it is wholly inappropriate for them to do so by erecting Christian religious symbols, Markert wrote, noting that the nearly 3,000 victims included "an international community of persons of diverse beliefs and nonbeliefs, or whose views on religion will never be known."
See You at the Pole event
A See You at the Pole prayer event to be held on school grounds Sept. 28 should not be advertised on the school's website, FFRF asserted in the letter. (Apparently the school removed it after receiving an email from Markert, but the cached page is here. will be held on school grounds next week Wednesday, September 28th. The announcement said, “Join us for See You At The Pole on Wednesday, September 28, at 7:30am. We will meet at the rear entrance of the building. Everyone welcome!”
There was no indication of the actual sponsor of SYATP on the posting on the school’s website. New Heights Middle School also created an “event” on the school’s Facebook page for the prayer rally.
Periodic SYATP events are ostensibly “student-initiated” and “student-run,” but from all appearances, it appeared the Sept. 28 event was a school-sponsored event.
"We understand that public schools cannot exclude student religious groups from meeting on school property before or after-school hours," Markert noted. "Nevertheless, it is inappropriate for teachers, other public school employees or outside adults to actively organize, participate in or promote these student-run religious organizations."
FFRF asks that the district commence an immediate investigation into the circumstances surrounding the decision to allow the Sept. 1 prayer rally. "The alleged statements by Principal Stinson call into question his ability to head a secular public school. He is abusing his public office to promote his private religious agenda. Moreover, schools in your district must be instructed that such rallies cannot be scheduled in the future, and any current plans to have Christian Chapman, B-SHOC or any other Christian group intending to missionize a captive group of young students through these 'assemblies' must be canceled immediately."
FFRF also asks the district to remove any religious imagery, including Christian crosses, from public property and to refrain from school sponsorship of student See You at the Pole events.