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Cheers for Minn. student and school district for moving graduation from church

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is delighted that Minnesota’s Eastern Carver County Schools district is moving its high school graduations out of Grace Church in Eden Prairie.

At a special school board meeting on Sept. 6, the board was told by its legal counsel that “ECCS faces a substantial risk of litigation if it chooses to continue to use Grace Church’s facilities for its graduation ceremonies.”

This is true, since FFRF was preparing legal action had the district not made the move. FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote a legal complaint letter in June backing up students and other community members who had demanded the change and requesting that the district “select a secular facility in order to respect the diversity and constitutional rights of its students and their families.”

Chaska High School began to use Grace Church’s Eden Prairie location for graduation in 2004, and Chanhassen High School was using it since it opened in 2009.

The petition campaign to move the graduation venue from a church was started by Eli Frost, then a Chaska High sophomore, about the time of the spring graduation. Frost was named the Freedom From Religion Foundation Student Activist 2023 honoree for his outstanding activism, receiving $2,000 in a scholarship that a generous West Coast couple has set up.

Frost told FFRF’s newspaper, Freethought Today, that he was first “confused and annoyed” to learn that a megachurch was his high school’s graduation venue. His concern deepened when he realized the church had a “long history of making derogatory, public statements against the LGBTQ-plus community” and even opposed divorce in cases of domestic abuse. Frost pointed out that his school district was violating its own anti-discrimination policy. “I personally believe we should be welcoming and accepting of all, especially marginalized groups like the LGBTQ+ community,” Frost explained.

In response to the change, Frost told FFRF: “I would like to thank our superintendent, Lisa Sayles-Adams, for making the choice to move graduation from Grace Church. There are hundreds of students, parents and educators, past and present, that will benefit from this change. The district with this decision has shown its commitment to being an inclusive school district for everyone regardless of unchosen differences. It means the world to the students who were most negatively affected by the past venue and it’s really just incredible.”

Frost was equally gracious about FFRF’s role, writing, “I can say with confidence that this result would not have happened had you not gotten involved. I am endlessly grateful that you played such a major part in helping me and other students not have to graduate in a bigoted church. The district’s lawyer repeatedly cited your letter as evidence that it’s unconstitutional.”

Reason and our secular Constitution has prevailed in this complaint. Unfortunately, a nearby school district, Shakopee Public Schools, also hosts its graduation at Grace Church.

“The Freedom From Religion Foundation urges Shakopee Public Schools to follow suit and is prepared to go to court to defend the right of students to a secular graduation venue free of sectarian influence,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “We urge students and parents in that district who object to a megachurch venue as a school graduation to contact FFRF.”

Individuals can get in touch with FFRF through our “Report a State/Church Violation” online form at ffrf.org/legal/report.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 40,000-plus members and several chapters across the country, including more than 900 members and a chapter in Minnesota. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

If you are an FFRF member, sign into your account here and then update your email subscriptions here.

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