The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) applauds an Illinois school district for maintaining a welcoming and religiously neutral environment at its recent graduation ceremony — in spite of pressure from the Religious Right.
In a column for Fox News, theocracy-aligned commentator Todd Starnes wrote about West Prairie High School’s rejection of several proselytizing remarks in a draft of a student’s graduation ceremony comments. The student’s full speech was posted on social media and includes the following lines:
Can I take you to a hill called Calvary and show you the person of Jesus Christ? … The cross of Christ shows us our own evil hearts, that we would put an innocent man up to die. Christ came to show us God’s justice in dealing with the unfairness of the world. The cross demonstrates to us the very love of God who died in our place and how we find at the end of the day that without his forgiveness we would never make it. … The most important thing in your life is to find that intimacy with God. He will guide you, he will hold you, and he will take you through safely in your journey. As you search for goodness, justice, love, and forgiveness, know that only God is big enough to provide that for you. (emphasis added)
These comments are openly proselytizing, aimed primarily at encouraging non-Christian students to become Christian. The student confirmed this intent when he was asked whether he was concerned about delivering these remarks to non-Christian graduates: “It’s impacted my life, and I wanted to share it . . . the hope of Christ with others. I’m going to share that.” Nevertheless, Starnes’ piece falsely stated that the prohibited comments were nothing more than a declaration of the student being “a follower of Jesus Christ.”
The Christian advocacy group First Liberty Institute is now providing the student legal counsel, more the reason for FFRF to show its appreciation for the school district.
“We write to thank the district for protecting the religious rights of all of its students,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor writes to West Prairie CUSD Superintendent Carol Kilver. “Not only is the district’s policy legally sound, it is the best way for the district to ensure that its graduation ceremonies do not become religiously or politically charged, which would undermine the ceremony’s purpose and potentially ruin a once-in-a-lifetime event for some students and families.”
Imagine the uproar and community backlash if a Satanist student chose to deliver a prayer to Lucifer or a Muslim to Allah, focusing on Muhammad as “his only prophet,” FFRF asks. But that scenario is exactly what the school district would be courting if it changed its graduation policy for student speakers, as First Liberty wants.
And extremely importantly, if the district ended up solely with Christian proselytizing at its graduations, as First Liberty hopes, these prayers would alienate a significant and rapidly growing portion of today’s high school students. Nationally, 36 percent of younger Americans — those born after 1990, i.e., the district’s students — are nonreligious.
FFRF also wishes to inform the school district that in the event First Liberty Institute sues the district on this matter, the state/church watchdog would be willing to file an amicus curiae brief in defense of the district’s current policy and practice.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 33,000 members and chapters all across the country, including over 1,000 members and a Chicago-area chapter in Illinois. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional separation of state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.
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