The Mississippi school district sued Thursday over a series of mandatory evangelical assemblies has a history of giving special access to local evangelical churches, including the one whose school-hours evangelism led to the lawsuit. According to the Pinelake Church website, the local school administration had previously invited local churches into the schools at the beginning of the school year, where they moved from room to room praying and “taking dominion” over the public and private schools in the county.
“I began teaching at Northwest Rankin High School (NWR) last Fall,” said an attendee of Pinelake Church on the church website in 2012. “Before the school year began, the administration told us there would be a prayer walk at the school. Local churches would come, pray in the classrooms, pray for teachers, with teachers and pray for students. I thought, “Yes! Thank you Lord, for sending some mighty prayer warriors my way!”
The same teacher describes the opportunity she takes, in the context of one of her classes, to share her Christian faith. “Through the Public Speaking class I teach, we are able to talk about Christ, in depth, daily. Students sometimes question other students about where they go to church, their relationship with Christ and what their beliefs are. Students would write in their class journals about the things they had seen, heard and witnessed while at school.”
The Rankin County Schools Prayer Guide, published by Crossgate Church in 2010, describes the mindset of those involved in the prayer walks. “We will … exercise our spiritual authority in Christ to bring each campus under the Lordship of Jesus Christ,” says the guide. “…Like Israel, we must stand up, cross over and walk in prayer with ownership authority throughout the local schools our children attend. These schools belong to God and He has given them to us as a part of our spiritual heritage. We must now exercise the responsibility of ownership and pray.” Among other spiritual strongholds (sins or demons) the prayer manual recommends praying over are unbelief, relativism, poverty, abortion, and homosexuality.
Private conquest-oriented prayers are not unusual in today’s evangelical communities, where the Great Commission is often melded with Jehovah’s command to Adam and Eve to go forth and, among other things, subdue the earth. Many evangelical churches are also buying into dominion eschatology, in which the means by which Jesus’ kingdom returns to the earth is through a takeover of governments and institutions by Christians acting on his behalf.
It is less common, however, for a governmental school administration to invite churches in to a public school to pray with teachers and students. Online references to Rankin County schools ‘prayer walks’ indicate that they may have taken place on Sundays, and only Christian students and teachers may have been on hand. Nevertheless, teachers who conquer the schools for Jesus on Sunday do not seem able to respect the constitutional separation of church and state on Monday.
On Thursday, a student at Northwest Rankin High School (NWRHS) sued the Rankin County School District and Charles Frazier, the principal, over a series of mandatory student assemblies in which representatives of Pinelake (Baptist) Church attempted to evangelize students. While the school has tried to claim the assemblies were student-run, they have provided no explanation for the reason they were mandatory. According to the complaint, teachers were even stationed at the exits to prevent students from leaving.
The complaint filed on behalf of the student by the American Humanist Association (AHA) claims the students were not told the nature of the assemblies, which took place by class level on three different days in April. Included in the complaint was an email from Frazier instructing senior class teachers to have students go to the first assembly, which occurred on April 9th. A junior class assembly was held a day later, and even after the AHA advised the school district that the assemblies violated the constitution, the school held another mandatory assembly on April 22d, this time for the Sophomore class.