Complaints prayer rally held at SC public school

September 22, 2011 - 5:00 PM

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The video showed children waving arms rhythmically as a Christian rapper called B-SHOC performs on stage in a darkened gym. The rapper is seen joking earlier in the footage about how "too much fog" at a rehearsal for the same event triggered a school fire alarm. On the recording, B-SHOC openly muses whether firefighters might show up and whether they might be "churchgoers, Jesus lovers."

Now a Wisconsin-based group called the Freedom from Religion Foundation is protesting that the rapper called B-SHOC was part of a Christian-theme prayer rally they say was improperly held at a public middle school in the small South Carolina town of Jefferson on Sept. 1.

Annie Laurie Gaylor with the 17,000-member Foundation said the rally that Thursday featuring the rapper B-SHOC and a youth evangelist, Christian Chapman, was held at New Heights Middle School in the town of about 700 near the state line with North Carolina. She said in a phone interview that her organization sent a letter of complaint to the school district seeking an investigation and a halt to such activity.

"It should never have happened," said Gaylor, the foundation co-president, arguing the event violated the Constitution.

The foundation's attorney, Rebecca Markert, termed the event "the most egregious" she's seen in her three years with the non-profit group she said was founded in 1976 to protect the constitutional separation of church and state. Markert said her organization has dealt with dozens of events, mainly in the South, where churches or religious groups seek to enter schools to hold assemblies and talk about a secular issue, such as bullying, alcohol use or drug addiction.

"They speak about that issue, then they invite the kids to an evening pizza event at their local church," she said. "But this is the most blatant event I have seen, an assembly held during the school day."

A spokesman for Chesterfield School District, where the school is located, said officials had received several complaints.

"The district has begun to look into the situation," spokesman Ken Buck said Thursday, adding district superintendent John Williams had no immediate comment.

The American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina issued a statement that "a serious constitutional violation" occurred.

Calls requesting comment from New Heights Middle School principal Larry Stinson were not returned. A request for information from rapper B-SHOC on Wednesday received no response by midday Thursday.

The school's Facebook page deleted its link to the video of the event, but comments in support of the principal were posted on it, with the comment, "Keep standing up for what you believe, and never let them knock you down. Keep it up! We love you."

Rodney Nicholson, pastor of High Point Baptist Church in nearby Pageland, S.C., posted on the school's Facebook page, "I cannot understand for the life of me why some are making such a big case out of all of this!"

"Those who did not wish to attend had an alternative option! There is something wrong when you can talk about sex, drugs, pregnancy, and any other subject in school except for Christianity!" Nicholson wrote.

A YouTube video of what was reported to be B-SHOC's appearance at the school that also was seen online Wednesday was no longer accessible Thursday.

Buck said he didn't know how or whether the two performers had been paid, nor exactly what time of day the event was held. He also said neither he nor the superintendent had seen a report about such a rally on the school's web site — visible online Wednesday.

A one-paragraph report on the school's web site, apparently written by a student who is identified as a "Hawk News Team Correspondent," called the event a "worship rally" with strobe lights and music. The school's mascot is a Hawk.

"The students were all stirred up and captivated by B-SHOC's mesmerizing light show. While performing, lyrics on the screen got the kids singing and rapping about Jesus," the report said. It added Chapman "brought a powerful message to which the middle school students could easily relate. Before the day ended, 324 kids had either been saved, or had recommitted their lives to the Lord."

Within hours of inquiries Wednesday from The Associated Press, the report was removed from the school web site, as were separate links it contained to web sites for B-SHOC and Chapman.

B-SHOC's web site (http://www.b-shoc.com/ ) says his name is Bryan Edmonds. On Wednesday, B-SCHOC's web site contained a YouTube video that showed him performing in the school's gym, bleachers lined with uniformed students. While walking the hallway, the rapper said the event was being held in a public school for 6th, 7th and 8th graders, and that "324 got saved."

B-SHOC's site lists about a dozen rapping shows scheduled for churches and other venues this year in several states. Chapman's site said he has served in ministry since graduating from university and speaks at athletic events, youth retreats and other functions.

Susan Dunn, the ACLU legal director for South Carolina, said schools cannot skirt constitutional protections by inviting outsiders to proselytize students.

"It is particularly important that elementary and secondary public schools protect their students' freedom of conscience and leave religious education to the parents," Dunn said, noting in her release that public schools that ignore this "often find themselves facing litigation."

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Susanne M. Schafer can be reached at http://twitter.com/susannemarieap