Public school cancels graduation rather than remove a Christian prayer. (Email address included)

What is up with schools in Arkansas not getting separation of church and state lately?  The Riverside School district has had a prayer at their 6th grade graduation as a matter of tradition.  This year one of the atheists spoke up about how it made them uncomfortable and how it was against the law.  The ACLU sent the school a letter confirming this.

But rather than remove the illegal part of the graduation, the school canceled the whole graduation, which has the town furious with the atheist student…but not the school district that was breaking the law.  This is the tactic of the fundamentalist, which we saw on full display in Rhode Island: intimidation.  Not because they are right or good, but because they intimidate.

And you can imagine the kind of quotes coming from the townsfolk:

“As Christians and a mainly Christian town I think, there were a lot of people hurt that our rights were taken away,” Adams said.

“My daughter graduated last year from 6th grade and my son is graduating this year from 6th grade, and we had a pastor open our ceremony and my daughter actually closed the ceremony in prayer,” she said.  The school district decided to cancel the graduation ceremony after one parent came out and protested the prayer.

“A lot of people were upset, a lot of the moms were really upset and I was very upset,” Adams said.

“We just went to take a stand for God because we felt like out rights were taken away.”

So much fail in so few sentences.

How were your rights taken away?  You don’t have the right to have a government institution proselytize to a captive audience.  It turns out that’s illegal, so it doesn’t even approach being your right.

And if you’re upset about graduation being canceled, blame the school.  They didn’t have to do that.  The school only had to remove the prayer, but decided to pitch a fit at being told they can’t break the law instead.

“I realize they have rights too but you can’t take rights away from one group and give it to another,” she said.

First, you didn’t have any rights taken away.  Second, no special rights were afforded to the atheist student.  If the school brought me in to speak at the graduation and I said “Congrats to these students, whose hard work in the absence of any assistance from deities, since none exist to assist them, has really paid off”, then the school would be breaking the law by having me speak.  The actual right at play here is the right of every citizen to have a government that does not encourage or prohibit any particular religion.  Neutrality from a public school is your children’s right, and thanks to the ACLU and the brave atheist student that right remains preserved.

Adams said she believes the school district made the best decision they could at the time so the parents decided to take action.   “A lot of the parents, the Christian parents decided to get together and do it at the church,” she said. Adams said some of the parents are meeting Thursday to discuss which church will host the ceremony and to re-plan graduation.

The balls on this woman…

Really?  The school district made the best decision available?  If there can’t be a school-endorsed Christian prayer, then they might as well not even have a graduation?  That tells me you think the prayer is the important thing, and that the graduation means little more than its role for getting all the kids together to hear that prayer.  If you think the best decision was not having the graduation without the prayer, then you can’t say that you think the graduation itself is important.

Unless, of course, you’re an oblivious hypocrite.

“We are including everyone, everyone is invited, we want everyone to come and be a part of it,” she said.  Adams said it’s important to have a ceremony to recognize students for their achievements.

“We’re not trying to be pushy or ugly to anybody, we just want them to know there is a God who loves them,” she said.

I’m glad irony isn’t toxic or we’d all be dead after that bit.  The reason public institutions must remain religion-neutral (no Christian prayers, and no telling people god doesn’t exist) is for a large part to make sure that everybody is included and can be a part of it.  I’m sure Mrs. Adams means it when she says everybody is welcome in her church.  What if the graduation were to be held at Skepticon, and they said all the Christians were welcome?  Hey, we’re not being pushy, we just want them to know their successes are their own, since god didn’t help.

Listen lady, if you’re not trying to be pushy, you’re doing a shitty job of it.  Here’s a thought: you can have a graduation, which includes everyone, where there’s a ceremony to recognize the students for their achievements…but without breaking the law.  If all that other stuff is what’s important, then your behavior makes absolutely zero sense.  Of course, it’s not important to you.  What’s important is making sure they hear about Jesus, which is exactly what it means to be pushy.  So either you’re an idiot or a liar.

The article says that superintendent Tommy Knight was “advised not to comment at this time.”  Well, Tommy Knight, at tommy.knight@riverside.k12.ar.us, I’m sure as hell going to comment.

Mr. Knight,

I read the article about your reaction to the ACLU’s letter about the graduation prayer.  Surely you realize that a sectarian prayer to a captive audience at a public school is flagrantly illegal (if you don’t, it may be time to find another job).  Upon being called on it, rather than apologizing and simply not breaking the law any more, you decided to nix the entire graduation – as if the graduation ceremony and recognizing the accomplishments of the Riverside students is an empty enterprise if those students are not made to hear a Christian prayer.  You seem to have totally missed the point of a graduation, which is pretty damning since you are the superintendent of the school district.

What the situation looks like to myself and to the eyes of the rest of the nation outside your little town in Arkansas is that you have done this to sic the believers of your small town on the student who asked you to not break the law.  It looks like you are attempting to punish the student who merely insisted that all students at your school be represented equally.

Maybe you disagree, and you think that canceling the entire graduation instead of removing the one illegal part of it was the best way to convey your pride at what your students have done.  If so, then you have nothing to worry about.  But this story is starting to get eyes on it across the entire country.  Your decision will not be one made in secret.  Time to decide how you want yourself and your school district to look when they are judged by the rest of the nation.

JT

Asshole.

I wonder if by tomorrow morning his inbox will be full of similar letters.  Perhaps you all could help him out with that.

Credit where it's due: good job Episcopal Church.
How the Baxter County nativity lawsuit is probably going to play out.
A couple Christian county clerks who get it.
The pirate party gets blasphemy decriminalized in Iceland.
About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X