Is there anyone who doesn’t abuse his or her position at graduation ceremonies anymore? Already this spring, we’ve seen student speakers and teachers use their power to promote prayer, and now we have a superintendent doing it, too.
Earlier this month, Superintendent Damian LaCroix of the Howard-Suamico School District in Green Bay, Wisconsion spoke at the commencement ceremony for Bay Port High School and used his time to encourage parents in the audience to pray, pray, and pray, and told students to be the people God wants them to be.
You can hear the full speech beginning at the 1:27:04 mark of the video below:
Parents in the audience today, this is the only part of my speech where I comment directly to you. 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 [inaudible] of [Neil] Armstrong’s courage and inner strength: praying parents. You see, life can be a hard teacher, as it sometimes gives the tests first and the lessons after. 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. The power of prayer is evident if you study the trajectory of Neil Armstrong’s life…
Remember that your circumstances do not define you. Rather, they reveal the character of the person that God created you to be. Did you know that you are engineered for excellence? Did you know that you are designed for accomplishment? Will you honor the Giver of the gifts by living a life of excellence as you prepare to leave here today?…
Congratulations class of 2013. God’s blessings and Godspeed to all of you.
Got that students? The hard work you do is secondary to the potential that God gives you. And if Neil Armstrong’s parents didn’t pray for him, he wouldn’t have gone to the moon. And if your parents don’t pray for you, you won’t have any wisdom and you’ll basically be screwed the rest of your life.(You can imagine the outrage if LaCroix had told students and parents that God had nothing at all to do with their accomplishments and that denouncing Him was a prerequisite for their future successes.)
Immediately after it happened, new reports quoted a 2012 graduate as being a voice of reason:
“A superintendent of a public school district should not be [proselytizing] or evangelizing at a public school event like a graduation ceremony, for example,” said Vandermause, a Class of 2012 alumnus.
Vandermause says he and his friends found LaCroix’s mentions of the power of prayer, and the importance of God in a student’s accomplishments, offensive.
As for some of the former students, they feel the speech could have been more inspiring without isolating those who aren’t religious.
“I come from a religious background and I still think it’s deeply important that church and state remain separate and Damian LaCroix cater to everyone in the audience,” said Vandermause.
FFRF is already on the case, asking the school district to promise in writing (PDF) that employees of the district will not promote their personal religious beliefs at school-sponsored events in the future. They’re also calling for Superintendent LaCroix to be publicly reprimanded:
“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 the same school district, by the way, that featured a Christian cross in a promotional video (at the 0:26 mark) three years ago.