An Ohio school district shouldn’t hold its upcoming graduation ceremony inside a church, insists the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
A concerned Groveport Madison Schools alumnus and community member has informed the state/church watchdog that in keeping with a tradition since 2020, this year’s high school graduation ceremony will be held on Friday, May 26, at World Harvest Church. Students have reportedly protested against having their graduation ceremony in a church, with LGBTQ-plus students and students of various non-Christian faiths particularly vocal. However, the school district has ignored the concerns of these students in favor of continuing to host its official graduation ceremonies at World Harvest Church in the same room where worship services are held.
Public school students have the First Amendment right to be free from religious indoctrination in their public schools, including when participating in school-sponsored events, FFRF emphasizes.
“It is unconstitutional for a public high school to compel or coerce its graduating students, their parents, teachers and other members of their families or friends, to enter a house of worship in order to participate in or attend a graduation ceremony,” FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Samantha Lawrence writes to Groveport Madison Schools Superintendent Jamie Grube. “Moreover, this practice affiliates GMS with the Christian religion and specifically the views espoused by World Harvest Church.”
Many courts have held that holding graduations in churches violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, FFRF adds. It is no defense that graduations are events at which participation or attendance is voluntary, since courts have summarily rejected arguments that voluntariness excuses a constitutional violation. Furthermore, graduations are viewed as once-in-a-lifetime moments for graduating students. Students wishing to participate should not be forced to forgo this momentous occasion in their lives simply because the school district deems it necessary to hold the graduation in a church. Instead, Groveport Madison Schools should strive to create an inclusive environment for graduating seniors, especially in light of the fact that nearly half of Generation Z is nonreligious.
The school district’s defense is that it does not have an indoor auditorium large enough to accommodate graduation ceremonies. While this may be true, there are alternative secular facilities throughout the community, such as the Center of Science and Inquiry venue and the Greater Columbus Convention Center, that Groveport Madison Schools could use instead of a church.
That’s why FFRF is insisting that Groveport Madison Schools cease holding graduation ceremonies at World Harvest Church and instead select a secular facility in order to respect the diversity and constitutional rights of its students and their families.
“An occasion as special as a graduation ceremony should be not be overshadowed by a religious setting,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Students need to be assured a religiously neutral facility.”
You can read the full FFRF letter here.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 1,000 members and three chapters in Ohio. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.