New Jersey schools ends sponsorship of baccalaureate (June 23, 2015)

Woodstown-Pilesgrove Regional School District in New Jersey is taking steps to end its sponsorship of an annual baccalaureate ceremony after it received a June 23 letter from Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler. Woodstown High School co-sponsored a baccalaureate with Sharptown United Methodist Church which was held in the school cafeteria and advertised in the senior class calendar, which “strongly encouraged [students] to attend this worthwhile activity.”

Students also received mailed invitations to the ceremony, lacking a disclaimer, from the church.

Ziegler pointed out, “The school’s role in sponsoring and promoting the baccalaureate would cause any reasonable graduating senior or parent to conclude that the district endorses the religious messages espoused at these services.”

Superintendent Thomas Coleman replied that district employees would not organize, plan or coordinate future baccalaureates, services would not be included in the official senior calendar, and district administrators would “receive professional development regarding the constitutional parameters that apply to baccalaureate services.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation