Freethought Today · Vol. 22 No. 10 December 2005

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Foundation "Mom," Plaintiff Recognized at FFRF Convention

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Dianna Narciso
Photo by Brent Nicastro

Dianna Narciso is a Foundation member and the mother of Daniel, who attends Palm Bay High, Fla. She was the first to blow the whistle in regard to the proselytizing setting of the Palm Bay graduation, asking the school a year before the graduation to change to a secular venue.

She is a founder of the Space Coast Freethought Association in Brevard, and is author of Like Rolling Uphill: Realizing the Honesty of Atheism. She also runs Florida Writes for the Wall, which is a letter-writing campaign to support state/church separation and the rights of nontheists.

"When we first invited Dianna to speak along with co-plainiff Jennifer Musgrove, recipient of our student activist award, we never realized how quickly the case would move, and that Dianna and her co-plaintiffs would win before our convention," noted Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor. In introducing Dianna at the national FFRF convention on Nov. 12 in Orlando, Gaylor added:

"We have a surprise for you, Dianna, our 'statuette of liberty,' the Friend of the First Amendment Award."

By Dianna Narciso

Wow, I didn't expect that.

As far as I know, the settlement isn't complete yet. It has to be entered into the court or something legal like that. I was told that I couldn't talk about the graduation case until that happened. But of course, it became public anyway.

The school board voted to settle at a school board meeting, and a reporter called me that night to give me the news. I gave him some comments and I'm very grateful to him for printing the nice ones, because I was told by Americans United afterwards not to talk to anybody.

The result of his article was a couple of days' worth of letter blocks in Florida Today, where the first day all the letters were negative. They were all unhappy with the school board for settling. The second day we had two positive letters, and all the rest were negative. One woman even called on Christians to contact the school board and demand that they be allowed to graduate in the church.

According to the settlement, we could graduate at Calvary Chapel next year if they agree to cover the cross. Calvary Chapel doesn't really look very much like a church. On the outside, it looks kind of like a civic center. There aren't any traditional religious symbols on the outside. The inside looks like a food court in a mall, except for the sanctuary, where they have this very impressive cross. They refused to cover the cross for Jennifer, and maybe they'll agree to cover the cross next year, so we'll just have to wait and see about that.

I really appreciate your interest in this case, and I really appreciate your honoring Jennifer the way you have. She's an amazing kid and I wish her all the luck.

If you want more information about everything that went on in this case, especially letters that I wrote back and forth to the superintendent, and hate mail that Space Coast Freethought Association received (you could even read the attempt by the pastor at Calvary Chapel to convert me into Christianity), it will all be on my website, atheistview.com. As soon as Americans United tells me that it's all over, then I'll put all that information on the website.

Thank you again and good luck on your activism pursuits.

Questions and answers follow:

What was the reason for this high school to take graduation outside of high school?

Throughout the course of the complaint, I got different excuses from different people. The school secretary said the sound system was not good at the stadium. I think that's bull. It's good enough to host the districtwide marching band festival every year. They also said the weather was a concern, and that's just something you have to deal with in Florida. The superintendent said it wasn't large enough, which I really don't believe either. We know that one of the schools, Melbourne High School, obviously had a stadium large enough, because in 2004 they used it. All the schools should be able to use that stadium if necessary. We had some other excuses for why they didn't use the Florida Tech auditorium. Again, different excuses from different people. I think some people go to Calvary Chapel, and just wanted our students in their church. They undercut the fair-market rental fee by half to get the students into their church.

Dianna Narciso's website is diannanarciso.com.


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