Lewis Center for Educational Research Academy for Academic Excellence (AAE) in Apple Valley Calif., will no longer hold its graduation ceremony in a church. According to the complainant, AAE has held past graduation ceremonies in churches where crosses, bible verses and other religious symbols had been on display.
Addictionally, AAE held a baccalaureate at a second church, advertising it on AAE’s calendar and listing the school’s vice principal as “coordinator.” Many school officials, including the principal, attended.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a detailed letter to Superintendent Thomas Hoegerman explaining why religious spaces are unavoidably religious and legally problematic:
“Temples, mosques, and churches are holy to the adherents of the religious orders that built them. Their exclusive purpose is worship and to spread the message of that religion. The government has no business and no power to ask citizens of many faiths or no faith to enter the place of worship of one particular faith. Religious faith and worship is an intensely personal choice. The government cannot make attendance at a secular schools’s secular graduation ceremony contingent on entering the holy ground of a particular religion.”
Regarding the baccalaureate, Seidel wrote: “School staff participated in the religious ritual with their students, required the student band to attend, and gave out secular awards for public school performance to students. Students receiving awards were forced to submit to a religious ceremony they may not agree with, or forgo their award. This type of coercion is unseemly and unconstitutional.”
After an exchange of letters, the Chief Academic Officer of AAE assured FFRF in late November, “Earlier this month, the AAE held a grand opening ceremony of our new gymnasium. It is anticipated that both ceremonies will be held in the new gymnasium in the future, thus removing any potential First Amendment issues. The previously named ‘baccalaureate’ has been renamed to reflect its intent, which is issuance of senior awards and scholarships.”