FFRF calls out Green Bay area superintendent for commencement speech

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking the Howard-Suamico Board of Education in Wisconsin to reprimand a school district superintendent for exhorting parents to pray in his commencement speech at a Green Bay high school.

FFRF, a Madison, Wis.-based state/church watchdog, sent a letter on June 13 after a complaint was filed about the Bay Port High School graduation. Howard-Suamico School District Superintendent Damian LaCroix gave a commencement speech on June 2, as he does at every graduation.

LaCroix counseled parent to pray for their children: “While the fact that your child is about to graduate may, in fact, be an answer to your prayers, allow me to underscore what I think of [Neil] Armstrong’s courage and inner strength: praying parents…. Therefore, beyond any other acts and years to come, like Armstrong, your sons and daughters need your persistent prayers, for wisdom, humility, and discernment in facing the inevitable tests and trials and challenges that might [inaudible] prayer. Therefore and simply, lesson number one is to pray… “

“Remember that your circumstances do not define you. Rather, they reveal the character of the person that God created you to be,” LaCroix said.

According to WLUK FOX 11, several members of the community were offended by the speech.

“From a practical point of view, here we have a superintendent giving all the credit for students hard work over thirteen years to religion, instead of the students,” commented FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Staff Attorney Patrick Elliot stated in the letter: “Instead of giving a commencement speech that was inclusive of all Bay Port High School graduating students and their parents, Superintendent LaCroix gave an inherently exclusionary speech that contained references to God, contrary to his role in representing the whole school district. These statements by the head of the school system set a poor example for other school staff.”

This is not the first time FFRF has received a complaint about LaCroix. In March 2010, the district website hosted a taxpayer funded video titled “I’ve Got a Place.” LaCroix says in the video, “Howard-Suamico is a great place to live, to work and to raise a family.” As he says the word “family,” a large cross appears on the screen, as though Christians have a monopoly on family values. 

FFRF is requesting that the Howard-Suamico School District take steps to ensure that district employees are not imposing their personal religious belief on the students. FFRF also called for LaCroix to be publicly reprimanded for his inappropriate comments. FFRF will be monitoring this situation. Thanks also to FFRF Summer Legal Intern Aaron Loudenslager. 

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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