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Tenn. district to end religious commencement (August 30, 2022)

A concerned employee contacted FFRF regarding the religious nature of a graduation ceremony at Jellico High School in Tennessee. The employee reported that the commencement seemed to be a religious ceremony more than a graduation. In a video recording of the ceremony, the podium is shown emblazoned with a Latin cross. Reportedly, the program included a scheduled scripture reading, and the Christian god was referenced throughout the ceremony by many speakers, including the principal.

“The school district has a duty to remain neutral toward religion,” Legal Fellow Karen Heineman wrote to Campbell County Public Schools Director Jennifer Fields. “Commencements are for celebrating the accomplishments of all students, not for excluding some on the unconstitutional basis of religious belief and suggesting that their accomplishments and futures are actually the result of supernatural intervention, not hard work.”

A response from legal counsel assured FFRF that the issue has been addressed with the director of schools. Attorney Dail R. Cantrell responded, “We will make sure to correct for future graduations.”