Judge: Rankin school district in contempt over school prayer

JACKSON, MISS. — A federal judge has found the Rankin County school district in contempt of court for continuing to promote Christianity during school hours after it agreed to stop.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ordered the district Friday to pay $7,500 to the plaintiff as punishment for violating a 2013 order and again ordered it to stop sponsoring prayers at graduations, assemblies, athletic competitions and other school events.

The district first got into trouble when a Northwest Rankin High School student represented by the American Humanist Association sued over having to attend a school assembly that promoted Christianity. The district settled the suit in 2013, agreeing that activities during school hours would not advance, endorse or inhibit any religion.

But six months later, the same student attended a districtwide honors assembly at Brandon High School. The program, honoring students who scored above 22 on the ACT college test, was opened with a prayer by the Rev. Rob Gill, pastor of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church.