CANTON, Ohio –– Members of an Ohio school board have voted unanimously to discontinue holding its graduation ceremonies at a local church following pressure from a nationally-recognized atheist activist organization.
As previously reported, in both 2012 and 2013, Hoover High School in Canton held its commencement ceremony at Faith Family Church, a large church with seating for over 4,000 people. However, earlier this year, a parent complained about the location to the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which in turn wrote a letter to the district, alleging that officials were violating the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
“This practice is unconstitutional because it forces graduating students and their family and friends wishing to participate in, view or celebrate the graduation to enter a church to do so,” the organization wrote. “Moreover, this practice shows Hoover High School’s endorsement of the Christian religion.”
FFRF then requested that the district “select a more appropriate, secular location” for the event, and officials expressed their consideration of moving the graduation ceremonies to the Canton Civic Center.
During a hearing last month, over thirty students expressed support for continuing to use the church as the event host site, including 18-year-old Hoover High School student Matt Sahadi. During his presentation, Sahadi spoke to the board about a petition he had circulated, which had been signed by over half of the senior class within just a few day’s time.
“Currently, Hoover rents its facilities to a church,” he stated. “And, not one outsider has complained about that. What is the difference between a church renting a facility from Hoover and Hoover renting a facility from a church?”
Sahadi asked the district to reconsider bowing to the demands of the FFRF and listen to the desires of the students.
Likewise, on Wednesday, local resident Mike Gammill and administrator at Cathedral of Life Church suggested that the district enlist the assistance of the Christian legal organization American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) to help fight the FFRF.
“I’d like to see the district and the board join with an organization like the American Center for Law and Justice to fight the FFRF in the interest of the entire community,” Gammill said, according to the Canton Repository.
“The Faith Family Church doesn’t display any religious artifacts in the auditorium, has more seating, the location has a better sound system, is more conveniently located to the highway and has better parking than the Canton Civic Center,” he contended.
However, despite Gammill’s comments, and those presented by students last month, the board voted unanimously to move the graduation ceremony to the Canton Civic Center instead of continuing to host the event at the church.
As previously reported, a similar situation was battled in South Carolina last year, as a national humanist organization sought to stop a local elementary school from hosting its graduation ceremony at a university chapel. However, U.S. District Court Judge George Ross Anderson scoffed at the American Humanist Association (AHA), stating that it was “making a mountain out of a molehill.”
“I’m not granting the motion, just so there is no misunderstanding,” he stated. “In fact, I’m very disappointed.”