Organization to OCS: No more religious graduation activities

Published 12:26 am Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has asked Opp High School to “stop endorsing religion” in its graduation activities.

According to the organization, FFRF Attorney Sam Grover wrote to the school district superintendent after OHS “scheduled religion into its graduation functions.”

Grover says he cautioned the district that courts have ruled that public school graduation activities must be secular.

FFRF alleges that OHS scheduled baccalaureate services in the OHS auditorium on May 21, and during the activities OHS Principal Aaron Hightower led seniors in prayer.

FFRF also says that religious activities were also added into OHS graduation.

High school administrators scheduled a prayer for the event that was delivered to the audience by a student.

Hightower’s speech included references to God and prayer, FFRF said.

The letter to Opp City Schools from FFRF asks the district to refrain from sponsoring future baccalaureate services and that it ensure that no prayers are scheduled for future graduation ceremonies.

“Opp City Schools has a legal duty to remain neutral toward religion,” Grover said. “It makes no difference how many students want religious speeches or wouldn’t be offended by them at their graduation. A graduation should be a celebration for all students, not an exercise in alienating nonreligious students with a Christian message. A baccalaureate service, moreover, is an exclusively religious event. The letter points out that it is illegal for public schools to endorse or schedule a baccalaureate service at all.

“By scheduling graduation prayers and a baccalaureate, the school district has failed to comply with constitutional law,” Grover said. “FFRF advises that it avoid similar legal breaches of the First Amendment going forward.”

Opp City Schools Superintendent Michael Smithart said Monday that baccalaureate services are optional for all Opp High School seniors.

“We are in receipt of a letter regarding our activities,” Smithart said. “There is no mention in the letter about a possible lawsuit, as falsely reported in media over the weekend. The letter has been turned over to our board attorney for an appropriate response.”