School promotion of baccalaureate service ended (June 25, 2014)

Columbian High School in Tiffin, Ohio, will no longer actively promote a baccalaureate service for its seniors.

The June 7 baccalaureate event occurred at the Trinity United Church of Christ, which coordinated the event with school faculty, including the principal, his secretary and the choir director. The religious service was listed on the school’s graduation checklist, and promoted on the school calendar. Additionally, the graduation FAQ on the school’s website, “encourage[d] graduates and their families to attend.”

On June 12, FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote Superintendent Vicki Wheatley of Tiffin City Schools regarding serious constitutional concerns over the district involvement in the baccalaureate ceremony.

In her letter, Markert explained that given the school’s “promotion of the worship service on its school website, students will perceive the baccalaureate service as school-sponsored,” advising that the school “must not specially announce the service through the school website, include it as a part of the graduation checklist, or encourage attendance.” 

Wheatley responded on June 25 that, “future District publications regarding a baccalaureate service will include a disclaimer indicating the event is not school-sponsored, it is an optional event, and that the District does not endorse any message espoused.” Moreover, she has “reminded the appropriate District employees of the policies and limitations discussed above, and [has] clarified the District’s expectations.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation