High School Student Boycotts Graduation Ceremony at Christian Megachurch

May 25th is when students from Georgia’s Southwest DeKalb High School will have their graduation ceremony. In order to accommodate al the students and their families, the event will take place at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, the home of sex-scandal-ed pastor Eddie Long.

16-year-old Nahkoura Mahnassi and her mother want no part of that — it’s bad enough who the pastor is, but they don’t believe the ceremony should be taking place at a church:

Nahkoura Mahnassi (left) and her mother Alisha Brown (via WSB TV)

Nahkoura Mahnassi, 16, and her mother, Alisha Brown, said it’s a poor choice on the schools part because not everyone is a Christian and they feel like the ceremony should be held at the school or at a neutral venue like the Georgia Dome.

Mahnassi said her long story can be summarized down in part because she and her mother don’t have a religious affiliation.

“People don’t all have the same views and that having it at one place where the major views are Christian, it’s completely different for some people,” explained Mahnassi.

Brown said a church should not be used for the ceremony just because it’s a big venue.

“A church is a place you go to worship your God. I’m not a Christian. Church and state should be separated. That’s what I heard so to have it at a church, especially at New Birth is a slap in the face,” Brown said.

Way to fight the good fight! Before you get the idea that Mahnassi wants to get out of the ceremony, realize she’s also an honors student who would likely be getting some special recognition at the event.

It’s always a tricky situation when public schools hold events at church venues. You have to wonder what the church is getting in return — Will the pastor be speaking at the ceremony? Will Christian symbolism/brochures be littered across the place? Will attendees be encouraged to come back on their own? Were any other venues available for the same cost (or lower)?

We don’t have all those answers right now.

One thing you can probably bet good money on? If this was a large mosque, the school wouldn’t have even considered it as a graduation venue.

It’s a brave thing Mahnassi is doing and how wonderful is it to see her mother supporting her decision?! Now, let’s see some other students join her boycott.

(Thanks to June Marie for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://twitter.com/TychaBrahe TychaBrahe

    I am going to have to expand my “Young people I admire board.  I ran out of room.”

  • http://twitter.com/nicoleintrovert Nicole Introvert

    I feel badly for her.   I skipped my high school graduation due to the fact that there was prayer allowed as long as it was student-led.   (And yes, it happened.) 

    • http://twitter.com/catdumpling Cat MacKinnon

       for what it’s worth, i skipped my HS graduation too, and i never regretted it. ours was in a secular place (one of the smaller theatres in the Denver Performing Arts Complex.) it wasn’t about religion in my case: i just never saw the point. i didn’t want to pay $200 to rent a gown that i’d wear for a few hours, or wait all afternoon to be called up onstage to be handed a fake diploma (in most places, the “diploma” is just a rolled up piece of paper with a ribbon around it. they mailed you the real one a few weeks later.) aside from about 4 people, i hated everyone else in my school for bullying me, and i hated most of my teachers for letting it happen. plus, any family members that wanted to go to the ceremony had to pay $19 a ticket, and i still couldn’t justify letting them do that, even 15 years later.

      the grad ceremony seems like more fun in your head than it really is. in reality, it’s you sitting in an auditorium for three hours, waiting for your named to be called. and then you walk up on the stage, get handed a fake diploma, and walk off…and then you get to sit around for another hour or so while you watch everyone else do the same thing. then, once the whole thing is over, you hang out with your friends and family (and your friends’ families) for a couple more hours, pretending it’s “the best day of your life” (hint: it’s not, by a long shot.) then you sneek off and conspire to have some kind of party…which is pretty much just like any other party ever.

      i’m not saying that graduating from high school isn’t an achievement: it certainly is, and you should be commended for that. but “walking” really isn’t a big deal: it’s all pomp and circumstance and doesn’t mean fuck-all in the grand scheme of things. aside from a night of giggles (and possibly a night of mind-blowing sexual encounters…which is highly unlikely, since this isn’t Hollywood), you didn’t really miss anything (aside from maybe a night of the most awkward sex ever…which isn’t really a “loss”, in my book.)

  • Sstx70

    Good for them! They are absolutely right, this is not the appropriate venue for a public school graduation! I live in the Texas hill country and me and my family also have no religious affiliation. We deal with this kind of thing all the time. For a while the high school was holding choir concerts in the local Catholic church because they didn’t have the proper space at the school and the church would actually pass around a collections basket towards the end of the concert!! We of course did not contribute!! Fortunately now they have a proper auditorium at the school and the church concerts are a thing of the past.
    This type of thing is a problem in the South where Christianity is the norm and they have no insight that anyone may take offense and are offended when someone does. My kids have been bullied at school since 4th or 5th grade because of their non-religious beliefs. For a country founded on freedom of religion it sure doesn’t feel that way now days.
    I hope other students and parents join this brave girl in her boycott of graduation ceremonies held at a church! This should not be allowed to happen at a PUBLIC high school!

    • Surprise

      Here in San Francisco, there’s a publically-funded charter middle school housed in what used to be a Catholic school that went out of business. The school leases the space from the church, and the church offers Catholic Youth after-school tutoring, sports, and music programs.  The school serves one of the most disadvantaged student bodies in the City.

      I haven’t been to the school, but imagine that all crosses and religious paraphenalia have been removed. I would also imagine that the Church is unable to advertise its after-school programs to students during class hours, but who is to say that posters or flyers don’t make their way to the outside of school buildings? In any case, I would assume that to attend the after-school programs requires a permission slip from a parent.

      Regardless of what one thinks of the charter school movement, all in all, I think this represents a good compromise for the students. True, the church may be benefitting from public funds through leasing its buildings (although it’s hard to tell as so much of this charter school’s funding is private), but the school, a secular institutuon, is also benefitting from church funding, which built the original school.  Also, parents of other faiths or non-belief can rest assured knowing that their children are receiving a secular education.

      Regarding public schools holding their graduations in religious spaces: of course public schools should first make a serious attempt to find affordable and appropriate secular space; if secular space is not available, the public school should negociate with the religious space to see if removal or hiding overt religious symbols is possible during the graduation. Also, the school should make certain that this is not an opportunity to evangelize graduates or their families by posting materials or greeting them at the entrance. The school should then let parents know that they had not been successful in finding affordable, available, and appropriate secular space, and they should be transparent in their decision process (which secular venues had been considered, and why had been turned down).  They should also emphasize that people of all backgrounds are welcome to the graduation, and that the religious organization offering the space would not be connected with the event in any way.

      It sounds like there was a secular alternative (The Georgia Dome) when Nahkoura Mahnassi’s school searched for graduation space. Whether or not that space was affordable, appropriate, or available we don’t know. But, it seems that the school did not inform her of the consideration process, and how they reached their decision. If they had, and she had been convinced they made a real effort to find secular space, she might have felt more sanguine about attending graduation within a church. It’s very sad that she did not attend her own graduation ceremony.  

  • Jessica Lynn Frame

    @twitter-7583332:disqus , They’re planning on praying at my high school graduation.  It’s in four weeks, and I REALLY don’t want to go for that reason.  I also don’t want to miss out on the ceremony with my peers.  Plus, I have a lot of family coming.  I don’t know what to do.  :/

    • shewearsfunnyhat

      If you go to a public school, then I would talk to administrators. Prayer is not allowed at public schools. Also, talk to the ALCU. They may be able to point you in the right direction. 

      • Jessica Lynn Frame

        I already talked to the principal.  He told me that I shouldn’t “make a fuss.”  A teacher I’ve been talking with suggested I try to speak before or after the prayer– to give some sort of secular inspiration in addition to the religious inspiration.  I would, but I’m the only one in my class who’s an atheist and some of my classmates have already expressed some animosity about the situation.  I think the only thing I can really do is just go to the ceremony and silently laugh at the people praying.  I don’t think there’s enough time to contact the ACLU and I don’t want to make enemies by starting a legal fight. Plus, I’m sure that, unfortunately, the ACLU has more important things to do than worry about the graduation ceremony for 25 high school students.

        • Tim

          This is an important issue and the ACLU will see it as such.  I doubt that the ACLU has anything more important to do than defending the US Constitution.  It might be too short notice for them to do very much, but I would contact them and they might be able to make a phone call or send an email to the Principal or School Board and that *might* be all it takes.

        • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

          You shouldn’t “make a fuss”? This might seem like hyperbole, but all the people in history who fought for their rights and for the Constitution had to “make a fuss”. The reason why they don’t want you to make a fuss is because they know they’d have a lawsuit on their hands if they stubbornly refused to follow the Constitution and our current legal interpretation of things like the Establishment Clause.

          I don’t have all the cases in front of me, but I know there are several Supreme and local court cases where school-led or school-sponsored prayer has been deemed unconstitutional and banned. Time and time again, the separation of church and state (and, by extension, church and public schooling) has been upheld by the courts of our land.

          I would recommend, unless it would be too much of a risk or burden to you, that you “make a fuss” and fight this fight, if indeed it is important to you (which it seems to be).

          P.S. Don’t underestimate the ACLU. At least try to contact them. Don’t just give up before you’ve even tried because you don’t think they would care. They most likely would. The time constraint, however, does pose a problem.

        • Annie

          Jessica Lynn- What state are you in?  I’m in Florida, and sadly, a law was just passed here allowing “inspirational messages” from students at school events.  If there is no such law in your state, and you attend a public school, then I imagine the ACLU would be interested in your situation.  Best wishes to you!

        • Stev84

           Typical Christian privilege at work

        • Parse

          Jessica,
          In addition to what Tim and TerranRich say, I’d say go for it.  Though the ACLU has additional things on their plate than your graduation ceremony, they still have the capacity to address the situation.  Heck, I’d assume that they have a standard letter drafted for these situations (given how often they seem to occur); they’d only need to drop in the appropriate names.  

        • rhodent

          Jessica, forgive my frankness here, but a couple of the things you say in the post sound like excuses.  Not time enough to contact the ACLU?  A phone call takes five minutes.  The ACLU has more important things to do?  Let them decide if they have more important things to do. 

          Don’t want to make enemies by starting a legal fight?  That one, I will grant, has merit.  But think seriously about your situation.  First, the mere fact that you’re an atheist is going to make you some enemies (you said yourself that some have already expressed animosity), so think seriously about how many enemies you will make, not counting any you’ve made already.  Second, are you going to college after high school?  If so, how much do you really care about the opinions of people you’ll be leaving behind in the next few months? 

          Please understand when I say you should think seriously about this, I’m not assuming that the only logical conclusion is to fight this.  It may be that, for whatever reasons, the smart thing to do is in fact to follow your principal’s advice and not make a fuss.  But it may be that the smart thing to do is to make that fuss.  That’s for you to decide, and I trust you to be able to make the right decision.  But you can only make the right decision if you stop making excuses about the ACLU having better things to do, and focus on the real issues.

          p.s.  If you do decide to pursue it, another good group to contact is Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

        • gurudwara

          Jessica, you have been given some good advice here, particularly about contacting the ACLU, but I hope that you do not feel pressured to push harder than you feel comfortable with. Do what you can and don’t stress over what you can’t. There will be plenty of battles to fight when you are ready to fight them.

        • shewearsfunnyhat

          I understand the position you are in Jessica. I have been in that position myself. Please remember that this is a short period of time compared to the rest of your life. Once the graduation is done, you never have to set foot in that high school again. You never have to see those students again. Remember that when you face negative emotions from others. A month may seem like a long time, but, it will pass. You have more important things to look forward to in life. 

          Now as for your principle he sounds like a jerk. If you are in a public school, you have a constitutional right to make this a big deal.  Tell him that you have EVERY right to make a fuss. The supreme court has ruled against prayer in school and school events. Look for specific case information on wikipedia. (Dont site wikipedia directly. Just use it to start your research. Many people in College including myself, dont consider it to be a direct source. Its a great tool so use it) You may even want to get your parents to come in with you to a meeting. Get all of the information together including the supreme court cases. Tell your principle about each case. 

          Also, call the ALCU. They may be able to give you advice on how to handle this situation. They may be able to provide you with resources. They are there for people like you. They are more then willing to help you. All you need to do is call and talk to them. 

          You wont graduate as the most popular student. But, you will graduate knowing that you stood up for something that you believed in. You can show your class mates, that there is more to belief then an invisible grandpa figure looking down at you from the sky. 

          Here is another brave girl who had to fight for her constitutional rights in school. (http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/12/us-usa-school-prayer-idUSTRE80B2AG20120112) She has face a lot of hate from some small minded people. Those people are just showing how hateful christianity can be. Their hate is not a reflection on you. Its a reflection on them and how much they have strayed from their faith.

        • Deven_Kale

          What everybody else has already told you is good advice, and I especially agree when it comes to not feeling pressured to act and only going as far as you’re comfortable with.

          The bit of advice that I want to give you is based on perspective. You seem to have a very negative view of what may happen if you fight this. While I agree there is a good possibility of some immediate negative consequences like ridicule and gaining a few more enemies, there are also some long-term positive outcomes as well.

          My first thought when I read your statement about gaining enemies was about Jessica Ahlquist. Yeah, she got some enemies, some of them pretty damn crazy, but she also got hundreds or even thousands of allies willing to help her in the future. She ended up with a College scholarship worth around $60,000 (I think).I don’t think your response would be that large, but don’t assume that it will be nonexistent. Even in your own class, I’ll wager that you’re not the only atheist. It’s much more likely you’re just the only one willing to admit it yet.

          Also, think about future graduation ceremonies for students, such as yourself, who are uncomfortable with prayers. If you fight this, and win, those students will be able to happily attend those ceremonies with no more than the minimum necessary discomfort (such as sitting in an awful chair for 3 hours, sweating in a badly ventilated robe. ;).

          That’s all I have to say. Hopefully that helps, and best of luck to you whatever you decide.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=35702181 Christopher Check

    The biggest issue is the money thing.  If there was another adequate venue available for an equal or lower cost, it should have been used.

    Otherwise, I don’t actually have a problem with it.  I know what kind of financial strain school districts are under, especially in places like Georgia, where they have been facing budget cuts.  If this was the cheapest option, then so be it.But it should certainly have been a last resort.

    • http://www.facebook.com/maik.both Maik Both

      Religions get a tax break in the USA, don’t they? If so, it’s no surprise the church can offer their venue at a ‘lower cost’ than comparable locations – it’s already been subsidised by tax payers.

    • Justin Miyundees

      It will be far from free or cheaper – the church will surely self promote to a whole big crop of potential members.  I’ll lay money that the church will have greeters and pamphlets on hand at the very least.  There’s nothing like veiled threats of eternal torment to impressionable youths to up the membership.

      • Surprise

        Justin, I believe you’re selling both those who worship religion and those who don’t, short.  All my life I’ve attended the funerals or bar mitzvahs or weddings or meals of friends and acquaintances at churches, or synogogues or Muslim Community Centers, and I’ve never found that their members use those times to proselytize or to bring me into the fold. I suspect that a religious institution signing a lease agreement for space for a public school graduation is going to realize that this is a business opportunity, not an alter call.  If you’re concerned that religious school officials are going to use the event to evangelize people, that could happen at a secular venue just as readily as at a church. Heck, perhaps even more so because people would not be expecting it.

        “There’s nothing like veiled threats of eternal torment to impressionable youths to up the membership.” It’s hardly likely that because a 1-2 hour graduation ceremony for a public school is held at a house of worship, schoolchildren are going to give it up for Jesus, Muhhammed, or Buddha, especially if they’ve been raised in a house of freethinkers or people of strong faith.

        • http://twitter.com/butterflyfish_ Heidi McClure

          It happens. My voting place used to be at the local Catholic elementary school. There would often be donation tables or fundraisers set up by the front door at voting time. Which, I believe, is the main reason they moved the voting site.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

            I’m pretty sure they are there all of the time Heidi. They probably just didn’t go out of their way to hide them.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

        I would take you up that offer. 

  • Jean-Paul Marat

    I don’t understand why we aren’t extending this to other government functions in churches as well.

    How many people here have to vote in a church as their required polling place? I’m thankful that my county has switched to mail-in ballots for elections, but otherwise my polling place is the AoG megachurch down the road.

    I wonder what effect polling place might have on voting patterns (ie. do people who vote in churches feel more religious and vote more conservative?)

    • Annie

      My polling place is a church (we call it the Spock Jesus church, as there is a statue of Jesus outside with his hands raised, and one of the hands is forming the “live long and prosper” sign).  My precinct is also the most liberal in the county, maybe because most of us are affiliated with the local university.  So, at least in my precinct’s case, the location of the polling place doesn’t appear to  have an effect on people voting more conservatively, but I do get your point.  My daughter has asked how it could be legal to have a polling place located in a church, and I told her that there are rules about distance from each voter’s home to the polling place (I think it has to be within reasonable walking distance) and accessible for people in wheelchairs.  My guess is that churches have space available year after year that can be utilized for free.

      • Aimeejoe

        Now a Spock Jesus I could believe in!!

        • http://twitter.com/catdumpling Cat MacKinnon

          i’d prefer a Data Jesus myself;)

      • http://twitter.com/catdumpling Cat MacKinnon

        churches as polling places are a little different. it’s illegal for ANY polling place to post ANY political signage on their property during polling hours. also, polling places are staffed strictly by volunteers and NOT church staff…in fact, if a church staff member happens to be stationed at that polling place, and they even MENTION that fact, that can cause all sorts of legal issues. i’m also pretty sure that the whole electoral system makes a point of keeping church members from staffing a polling place in their own church, but i could be wrong. at any rate, during an election, great lengths are taken to keep the actual polling area as neutral as possible, both politically and religiously.

        at least here (west suburb of Denver), there are several churches that either rent out or donate their space for certain non-religious events, mostly because they’re comfortable indoor spaces that can handle a lot of people and what the fuck else are they going to use it for during the week? here’s an example: a few years ago, i got a DUI (which i’m certainly not proud of!) but part of my sentence was that i had to attend a MADD lecture, and the closest one that fell within my “due date” happened to be at a local church. i was a little apprehensive because of that potential “religious issue”, so i called up the local MADD office and was told, in no uncertain terms, that they ONLY chose locations based on capacity and availability, and that the lecture was absolutely non-religious.

        that turned out to be the truth, and aside from sitting in a pew with ten other people, there was nothing religious about it (especially because the MADD speakers seemed to enjoy using the “f-word” even more than i do, and because i was vaguely aware that i was in a church i thought it was kind of amusing…in a cheekily blasphemous sort of way.)

        my point is that churches certainly can (and are) used for secular purposes all the time…but i’d also question the use of one if other “public” (secular) buildings are readily available.

    • http://twitter.com/butterflyfish_ Heidi McClure

      I have to vote in a church basement (the polling place was relocated there from a Catholic elementary school). When I lived across town, I voted in a different church. Not a lot of conservatives in Massachusetts, though, so it probably doesn’t inspire conservatism here.

  • Aprilmarieh

    My family lives in south GA and I have faced many issues with my childrens schools including religious prayer, endorsement, and promotion during instructional time. The Freedom From Religion Foundation has been wonderful in helping regulate the abuse of the childrens rights to be taught in a religiously neutral atmosphere. I don’t know what I would do without the FFRF, this young lady should appeal to them asap, they work fast! 

    To the commenter who stated it was their opinion having this ceremony at a church is not a big deal, I’m afraid you don’t quite understand the situation in GA regarding the push of religion on students (in all of my experiences, the Baptist sect has been the denomination of choice in these attempts, just like in this article). Children as young as mine, 6 & 9, are harassed for not attending church. Their outcasted and treated cruelly and unfairly by both peers and their teachers and school staff. Things are bad here.  If you allow the school system an inch, they will take 100 miles. 

    • Sstx70

       Texas schools are very similar, especially where we live! I feel your pain!

      • Guest

        You’re right. I go to a public Texas college that has its graduation in a church. The Christians love it because they get to take their graduation pictures in front of the large crosses. This is  the same church and these are the same Christians who are homophobic. As a gay woman, the whole thing makes me sick.

        • John 3:16

          I’m not trying to be rude, but implying that all Christians are homophobic is stereotyping. Just because someone is homophobic and Christian doesn’t make all Christians automatically homophobic. I am a Christian and I have always been taught to love your neighbor as yourself. I think that goes against homophobia. I might not exactly agree with gays and lesbians but that doesn’t mean I don’t like them as a human being. I would rather have someone be gay and kind than straight and mean.

          • Ai_Naru

            She said are the same christians that are. Not that they all are. It’s probably more that she knows the people there and they’re homophobes. 

  • JA

    I live in Southern California but I find churches intrusive even here. My daughter’s charter school is very strict about keeping religion out. It’s the city I have a problem with. I took my kids to a Halloween event held by the city last year. They choose a church to sell food at the event. I felt like I would be financially supporting the church by buying food but with two hungry kids I had no choice. I’m sure plenty of restaurants would have happily set up a stand. I don’t know why they chose a church. They also have city recreation classes for a Christian playhouse but don’t bother to put in the catalog that it is actually Christian. I was going to sign my child up. Luckily, I looked into it first and found out that they teach both theater and Christian values in their classes. And this is in a religiously diverse city. Even here, religion is in too many places it doesn’t belong.

  • sam1331

    I really don’t see the problem of having it at a church. My parent’s church (that I grew up in) has a nice big auditorium that would be perfect for a graduation ceremony, and aside from a giant cross behind the platform (easily blocked by a school banner), there isn’t any other religious paraphernalia. Just because it’s owned by a religious organization shouldn’t automatically discount it from being used. 

    And contrary to what is implied in this article, I highly doubt most churches will attempt to use the graduation ceremony for evangelism. I don’t doubt that it is possible and has occurred, but at least in my area (rural/suburban Wisconsin) that would be breaking an accepted social taboo. I know school districts in my area use mega-churches for their ceremonies without issue. If you refuse to use those churches, they would have to limit who can come to the ceremony.

    • sunburned

      “Just because it’s owned by a religious organization shouldn’t automatically discount it from being used.”

      Because it’s *just* a building right?  So if a ceremony were to be held in say the modern day equivalent of Beno Hall, it would still *just be a building*.

      It’s a building supported by and built for activity that many people find justifiably detestable. 

      Personally I find it repugnant to be required to attend any secular ceremony in a building that is owned by people continually tell me that I’ll rot in hell (real or imaginary it’s the thought that counts).  Not too mention actively support policies I view as civil rights violations.

      • sam1331

        At least in my community, getting along and being polite is a big priority. We mostly accomplish that by not shoving our beliefs down each other’s throats at every opportunity. So when it comes time to have a graduation ceremony, and the best site is in a church, the non-Christians just ignore the fact that it is a church and focus on what is really important: the people graduating. Not everything needs to be a battle or an opportunity to show others how much you disagree with them. This is also why no one will try to pray during the ceremony.

        You go around saying you find Christianity “justifiably detestable” and you won’t have much support here. Not because people disagree with you, but because it’s impolite.

        I’ll add that this does not mean you cannot actively promote atheism, it just means that there is a time and place for that kind of thing, and a graduation ceremony is not one of them.

        • sunburned

          The point is that the BEST SITE is not a church.  It may be the least costly, convenient for those whose beliefs coincidence with that of the church but obviously it’s not the BEST site.  We are having this discussion after all.

          For example if a Catholic Church was used would it be acceptable to someone like my Father who was excommunicated for divorce way back when?

          Would it be acceptable to say a apostate Jehovah’s Witnesses?

          Those excommunicated from the Mormon church?

          Victims of Sexual abuse at the hands of the clergy?

          There are thousands of reasons that it’s inappropriate, so what’s the big deal about choosing a secular venue for a secular ceremony besides comfort?

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

            Okay, but what if it is the best site for the majority? I’m sure any site wouldn’t be ideal for everyone involved. 

            The fact is some schools cannot fit in their auditorium or their gym. Not all schools have their own football stadium. Some schools share stadiums and only have one or two stadiums per district. So…what’s the alternative? 

            • sunburned

              The alternative shouldn’t be to exercise the power of the religious majority for their comfort especially at the expense of the minority.

              The alternative is to find a location and time for a venue that is acceptable.

              It took about 3 minutes to find that the particular high school from the OP is 10-15 miles away from the Atlanta Civic Center, Alexander Memorial Coliseum, Georgia World Congress Center, Coca-Cola Roxy Theatre.I do like the idea of throwing out ‘what if’ scenario’s though.  Kepp ‘em on their toes and perhaps solve world hunger too.

        • Surprise

          I agree with sam1331: the important point is celebrating the academic achievements of those who are graduating, not making a point for athiesm.  If one, as a non-believer, before the event, can convince the school administration to consider secular venues (even by doing a little research), or learn the school’s reasoning for their decision to hold the ceremony in a religious space, or let them know you would prefer a secular space and urge them to choose one next year, great! If not, unlike Nahkoura Mahnassi, I wouldn’t not attend the ceremony. A little perspective is required here.  It’s for an hour or two long ceremony.  Athiests, agnostics, Jews, Muslims can’t sit for an hour or two in a Christian house of worship? Especially when the religious symbols are covered by school banners?

          All my life I’ve attended the funerals or bar mitzvahs or weddings or meals of friends and acquaintances at churches, or synogogues or Muslim Community Centers. The idea that their houses of worship should be categorically refused when affordable, appropriate, and available secular space is not an option is bizarre to me. It’s even a little bizarre to me that a bright young girl would make such an issue of it that she would miss her own graduation. Why not attend, but then write a letter protesting  her experience to the school administration, local paper, and online blogs? Did she have to miss her ceremony?

          Now, if Christian students lead a Christian prayer (which could also happen at a secular venue), that’s another thing.  Hopefully, non-believers or people of other faiths will be ready with praise of the separation of church and state (or reason or some other humanistic value) or prayer to their own Gods. It’s hard though. Christians are in definitely in the majority.

          I remember reading a story about Brittany McComb, an evangelical Christian who attended public school. She was the school valedictorian, and as such, she had the right to give the graduation speech. She turned in her speech for approval, but the school administration edited it, saying that it was just “too evangelizing.” She was allowed to thank God or Jesus, she just wasn’t allowed to try to convert the audience.  Brittany accepted their decision, but then, when the time came, she gave the original version of her speech. The Christians in the audience loved it. I imagine that the non-Christians in the audience, not so much. Then the school officials, realizing what she had done, shut off her mike. Brittany could not make her final plea that Jesus was the answer to all their woes. The Christians started to boo and yell, and the ceremony was no longer about Brittany’s classmates’ graduation, but about her aborted alter call.

          Of course, Nahkoura Mahnassi did no such thing. Refusing to attend graduation on principle is far more gracious than agreeing to give an edited speech, and then turning around and giving the original version, all the while evangelizing, for all intense purposes, to a nearly captive audience.

          Nahkoura Mahnassi was an honor student. What if she had had a chance to give a speech at graduation? Would she have simply said that she was an atheist, a free thinker who wanted to thank other freethinkers, including Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Bertrand Russell for their contributions to society, and then go on to extol the accomplishments of her fellow classmates in the rest of her presentation, which was the real focus of event? Or, would she have chosen Brittany McComb’s route? To selfishly make the graduation about herself and her own beliefs, and to hold forth on how much better atheism is than the faith of those who believe in a magical sky friend?

          Even though I’m agnostic, the bible holds wisdom for me from time to time. I was reminded of this verse: Ecclesiastes 3:1 – To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.

          In other words, you pick your battles.  You pick your methods, you pick your time. Holding forth on your religious beliefs or expounding the benefits of atheism during a graduation ceremony at a public school celebrating the academic achievements of your fellow classmates is not, well, in season.

      • Surprise

        Not all Christians believe that non-believers or people of other faiths are going to hell, and not all Christians push for the end of civil rights.

        Even among those that do, hell may not be a theological point they push that often.

        It completely depends on the congregation and sect.   

        • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

          That may be true, but the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church definitely does believe that non-Christians are going to hell. I can understand why people who aren’t of that religion would see it as a hostile environment, even if no one affiliated with the church will be there.

          A conservative evangelical church simply isn’t neutral ground. There are also faiths that forbid their members from entering a different religion’s house of worship. I’d imagine that if any of them are in the graduating class, those students wouldn’t be able to attend either.

    • http://twitter.com/yenmano Yen Mano

      Yeah, I have a lot of meeting in churches for various non-profit organizations. Even for my work place, we meet a catholic church in a special room. Usually all they ask is that we don’t mess things up and leave everything as it was when we go. We don’t even have to pay money.

      If that is the case – churches already get tax breaks – why not have functions at them if they are cheap or even free? Maybe the religious admin won’t even be there? I don’t see that much harm if this is the case.

      I am very suspicious of mega churches – huge, beautiful churches usually funded by evangelicals. I’m Canadian so we don’t see them so often, and many Evangelical churches cater to specific ethnicities (South Indian, Korean, etc). Megachurches are an obvious testament that the church wants your money and obedience… I doubt their doors are open to the general public (they’d at least want to preach)

    • Aimeejoe

      I live in SC and I can see where this is a problem for them.  It is pretty obvious and they try very hard here in the south to push Christianity in the schools and if this young lady has been going to public schools in GA her whole life she should be suspicious.  It may be different in other parts of the country and holding events in churches is for the most part not a problem.  But in the south if a church is involved in a school event it is most likely to get their message in to the schools.  And I agree if a mosque or any other religious organization were to offer their real estate for an event there would be a tremendous cry from the Christians.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ORRVVC5R2QWLTXEM6SX5L6BORE Jay Arrrr

    I have no doubt that the “host pastor” will get to kick off the festivities with a “magic spell”.

  • 1WittyWitch

    When I graduate from high school, our ceremony was held on the school football field.  If this school has a football stadium, why not hold the graduation ceremony there?

    • 1WittyWitch

      “graduated”

    • Victoria

       I’m sure they do have a football stadium. SW Dekalb is a known football power. I think the biggest issue might be that it can be really, really hot on graduation day; I went to high school in suburban Atlanta and none of the schools in my county did outdoor graduations.

  • houndies

    The town I went to high school always had graduation at the local baptist church until there got to be too many kids and they had to move it to an indoor arena in another town. That was the only reason though and as far as I know they probably still pray before during and after the ceremony. I say good luck to these two women, but being from the south I know its an uphill battle for them. Hopefully as the years progress we will get further and further away from all this religious bullshit.

  • Sue Blue

    No matter how cheap the church venue is, and regardless of whether there is any overt or covert proselytizing going on at the ceremony, the school is still paying money (taxpayer money) to a religious organization in order to use their facility.  This amounts to supporting that religion, which is illegal. Surely there are cheap or free secular alternatives.  Our small high school holds their graduation ceremony on the school’s football field because they don’t have a large auditorium, even though this is the rainy Pacific Northwest.  And even though they don’t have prayers before or during the ceremony, it has never rained on graduation day in almost thirty years, so christians can stuff that in their pipe and smoke it, too.

    My guess is that the church offered some sort of incentive to use their building or that many of the school board or administration or staff are members of this church so they got a “special” deal.  

    These brave women should contact the ACLU or FFRF  right away, if they haven’t already!    

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

      Your guess is exactly just that…a guess. The school that I teach at has all of their choir concerts at a church…for free. The school auditorium isn’t big enough to hold everyone. So a church it is. Again…it’s because it’s free. No literature in intentionally left out and the pastor isn’t even present in the building. Usually in situations like this the church has a facilities person who unlocks the door, takes out any trash and turns out the lights and locks the doors. Seriously that is it. 

      Your assumption that the school is paying money to the church is a sad one. You really have no idea so why even say such things as the school supports the church and they are engaging in illegal activities. Really? If you really think that then you are pretty naive. Schools are broke and are trying to save money everywhere they can. My guess is that the church is cheap. And no, paying a church for rental space would not be illegal. Now if they took up a collection at the graduation service that was to benefit the church, THAT would be illegal. 

  • Zeggman

    Personally, I think this is pretty childish. Who cares what the building is used for at other times? If they’re holding the graduation at a larger, nearby high school, is that a problem because they’re your cross-town rivals? If it’s in the Astrodome, do you need to be a fan of  the Houston Oilers or you’re going to pout at home rather than attend?

    Go to the graduation ceremony or don’t, but calling the press to announce that you’re not attending because you’re not a Christian just makes it look like you’re fishing for attention.

  • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

    You don’t just build schools with halls? Not even sports halls? There’s really no where to get a fraction of the school (presumably only the graduating year) together actually at the school?

    • Ai_Naru

      ..What’s a sports hall? no seriously. I have no clue. I just graduated last year. O.o

  • Irej24

    I think this girl is very brave. I tried to look for an update for how she is doing, but only found copies of the main press release. She is in a hostile to non-christian area. It is sad how vile people behave towards others who just want to stand up for themselves in a peaceful way. I wish her luck.

    • Ai_Naru

      EXACTLY. People that don’t seem to understand why it’s a problem don’t seem to understand the environment this girl is in. In GA (I lived here, got bullied, talked about, and pressured to go to church), it is VITAL to a lot of people that EVERYONE they know is Christian. If not, they are bullied, ignored, and outcasted. to hold a graduation in a church in a place like that is tantamount to cruel to those people like me. In the end, it is forcing a religion down my throat in one way or another. 

  • highroller2012

    The modern day Madeline Murray O”hare such non news!


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X