The Freedom From Religion Foundation is pleased to report that the Dickinson Independent School District in Texas will no longer include proselytizing remarks in future graduation ceremonies.
A concerned district parent reported that Principal Billye Smith delivered a speech in which she quoted scripture during the 2023 Dickinson High School graduation ceremony. FFRF was informed that graduating seniors, including the complainant’s child, were not aware that Smith would be delivering a religious speech during the ceremony. The speech included a passage from a book recounting the biblical story of Genesis:
In the beginning, after He labored over the heavens and the earth, the light and the dark, the land and the sea, and all the living things that dwell therein, He created man and woman, and before he rested, God Almighty gave us one final gift: The gift of story. Ladies and gentlemen seated before me, God has made you the author of your story.
The state/church watchdog requested an investigation into the matter to ensure that future school-sponsored events would not include religious statements of proselytizing by administrators, faculty or staff.
“Public school students have a constitutional right to be free from religious indoctrination in their public schools, including while participating in graduation ceremonies,” FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote.
It is well-settled that school officials, including administrators, may not deliver a religious speech or proselytize as part of a school-sponsored event. The district has a constitutional duty to remain neutral toward religion. By making religious statements at the graduation ceremony, Smith, and thus the district, abridged that duty and needlessly alienated students and families like our complainant’s who are a part of the 49 percent of Generation Z who are religiously unaffiliated.
FFRF has received an emailed response from Superintendent Carla Voelkel, promising action in regard to the violation. “Dickinson ISD will promptly address this concern, and we will ensure that all future school-sponsored events respect the First Amendment rights of students and their families,” she wrote.
FFRF is pleased to see a school district has seen the light and is willing to respect the First Amendment.
“We’re glad that school officials are taking action to uphold this important neutrality,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “This change will keep the emphasis where it belongs at a graduation ceremony: on 13 years of secular education and student achievement.”
You can read FFRF’s letter to the superintendent here.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members across the country, including over 1700 members and a local chapter in Texas. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.