The Freedom From Religion Foundation has received assurances from a Massachusetts school district that religion will not be allowed to intrude into its graduation ceremonies from now on.
Canton Public Schools officials invited the Rev. John Tomilio III to give a sectarian religious invocation at the 2018 Canton High School graduation ceremony. Principal Derek Folan introduced Tomilio by stating: “At this time I’d like to invite Reverend Dr. John Tomilio III to the stage … to deliver the invocation.” In Tomilio’s invocation, he called upon a “holy, loving, and most gracious God” to bless the graduates, and prayed that they “serve others in service of You.” He closed by asking the audience — twice — to give a “joyous Amen.”
The Supreme Court has specifically struck down clergy-delivered prayers at school-public graduations for violating the Establishment Clause, FFRF reminded the school district. This prohibition extends to all school-sponsored events. School officials may not invite a student, teacher, faculty member, clergy or any other invited guest to give any type of prayer, invocation, or benediction at a school function.
“The Supreme Court has settled this matter—high school graduations must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students,” FFRF Robert G. Ingersoll Legal Fellow Colin McNamara wrote in June to Canton Public Schools Superintendent Jennifer Fischer-Mueller. “It makes no difference how many students or families want prayer at the graduation ceremony. As the Supreme Court has said, ‘fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.’”
FFRF’s persuasive reasoning caused Canton Public Schools to avow its faith in the U.S. Constitution.
“Regarding your letter of June 29, 2018, I am writing to confirm that steps have been taken to ensure that there will be no prayers or religious rituals as a part of any school ceremony (e.g., graduation) or any other school-sponsored event,” Fischer-Mueller responded in a recent letter.
FFRF is delighted that it persuaded Canton Public Schools to protect the First Amendment rights of its students.
“FFRF is always happy to be of educational service,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Keeping schools secular is part of our core mission.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 32,000 members across the country, including over 500 in Massachusetts. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.