Ohio School District Unanimously Votes to Discontinue Holding Graduation Ceremonies at Church

Graduation pdCANTON, 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.

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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.”


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  • Sir Tainly

    From a Hoover High School related site:
    “Hoover High School serves 1,725 students in grades 9-12.”

    So out of 1,725 students there were 30+ students that wanted the graduation site to remain at the church. That’s about 2%, given the way the story is being presented I’d guess that 31, 32, or 33 was the actual number of students…not upper thirties. (That’s just a guess though.)

    The school board voted unanimously as well. Our democratic republic’s system in action, and I have to respect that virtually no one in Canton thought this was worth a fight. It’s not part of some atheist conspiracy or a sign of apostasy, just business as usual in the U.S.A. What kind of “pressure” did the district face anyway, was it nothing more than a letter?, was it a threatened lawsuit?, was it a tersely stated opinion piece in the local paper!? (shudder 😀 )

    Unlike the situation in South Carolina last year this was no battle. And except for 2% of the students this appears to hardly be an issue let alone a battle. Even if I would respect the school board for having put up a fight…in this case they unanimously decided not to, except for the students that probably attended this mega-church anyway.

    For whatever it’s worth, if it came to a legal fight I would tend to agree with Judge George Ross Anderson that the South Carolina school’s critics were making a mountain out of a mole hill. In this case however I fear that some of the more strident anti-atheist opinions are also making a mountain out of a mole hill.

    This was not a battle, there are no losers IMO.

  • Scott

    Let me throw this out there:

    I’m a Christian and would have no problem with a high school using a Mosque….it would have no effect on my beliefs or faith in the least. The questions that need to be asked are: 1) What will it cost to rent the facility, 2) Will it meet our needs, 3) Will any modifications or adaptations be needed, or can we pretty much just walk in and use the facility. So in all honesty…use our hypothetical mosque if it’s better suited…school districts are generally hurting for funds as it is….

    What I do have a problem with are comments like this from the above ‘facebook’ section:

    “Jo Ann Jury · Top Commenter · McCluer North High
    And if they held the graduation at the Canton Mega-Mosque the ER would be full of Christians who just had mild strokes or heart attacks.
    Reply · 8 · · 13 hours ago

    Lowell Skelton · Top Commenter · Department of State
    Sounds like a great reason to do just that!
    Reply · · 12 hours ago”

    So…Mr. Skelton…you hope Christians have mild strokes and heart attacks? Do you think that’s an effective way to present your beliefs?

    • James J. Grimes

      Hi Scott, I agree with you 100%. If it a local decision to use the mosque for graduation ceremonies, if the venue meets their needs, if the rent is within their budget, then by all means. This is as long as it is a local decision free from all outside influences. Of course, the FFRF and the AHA would have no issues with graduation ceremonies at a mosque. It’s only churches that they will react to.

      And you have noted correctly, atheists post here are insulting to Christians. Hoping that Christians would have life-threatening sicknesses is mind boggling.

      BTW, I visited an atheist site this week to find out more about what their beliefs (or non-beliefs) are. I asked a few questions. The responses were extremely hateful. One man offered to perform gay sex on me. I was told to leave and to never return. There was more. They accuse Christians of hate. We are intolerant toward their beliefs. Intolerance is different from hate. However, we are met with extreme hatred; anything Christian is attacked. When I say that they are useless and destructive, it is because of how they treat others.

      Thank you for sharing.

      • Jo Ann Jury

        James
        The idea that your hate is based on yore religion does not make it less hateful. As far as the gay community, Christians say that homosexuals are perverted, dangerous, abominations and more. I don’t care what source you get your opinions from it is mean, hurtful and hateful!!!!!! What baffles me is your surprise when the gay community hates right back. Seriously, how do you expect them to respond? My personal opinion is that many expect the LGBT community to go back to living life in the shadows. Those days are gone so get used to it.
        I don’t know what you said on the atheist site so I can’t comment on the validity of the remarks but reading your post makes me think you might have been offensive and not even known it.

      • Scott

        Hello James! Thanks for your comment. As we seek to be ambassadors for Christ we need to take great care in how we craft our comments and statements to others. We should seek to be patient, reasonable, fair, clear, honest and humble..

        Have a great day!

    • Jo Ann Jury

      My post was meant to be a bit tongue-in-cheek with regards to the stroke and heart attack thing but it is not that far off. I believe you when you say it would not bother you if the graduation was held at a mosque but I am quite certain you would be in the minority. The outrage would hit the media Lii a ton of bricks. The bottom line is that having at a church based venue would FORCE kids and parents into a church if they wished to attend the ceremony. It doesn’t matter whether there are religious icons in the auditorium. Most Christians I know sorta feel like ‘it’s just a church but you don’t have to believe or sit thru a service. No big deal.’ But it is a big deal to some people. It can actually be traumatic to some (I personally know of two). Just the idea of being forced to go into a church building gives me a chill along with a little fear and trepidation.

      • Scott

        Greetings to you Jo Ann. I appreciate that your initial posting may have been “a bit tongue-in-cheek”, but let me expand on something interesting from your comment.

        You said: “But it is a big deal to some people. It can actually be traumatic to some (I personally know of two). Just the idea of being forced to go into a church building gives me a chill along with a little fear and trepidation.”

        I appreciate that comment and am sincerely concerned that two people you know would face potential trauma from that situation. Not knowing any more details about the situation (nor not wishing to know any) it is my prayer they are able to deal with their individual issues regarding that situation with whatever means they deem necessary.

        However…I would never….EVER…hope they have mild strokes and heart attacks as Mr. Skelton does in response to your comment.

        Let me put it another way: The very first facebook comment on this page by Mr. Stefan Werner says at the end:

        “It’s time for a NEW AGE OF REASON. A time to cut free from the primitive bonds of religion and focus on peace, justice, and equality for all.”

        I’m all for the peace, justice, equality..and I would also throw tolerance in there as well. I don’t see a lot of that from commenters like Mr. Skelton. I’m also aware of the potential for a ‘tu quoque’ here…there’s room for improvement of both sides of the comment aisle. Regardless the question remains for Mr. Skelton: Do you think that’s an effective way to present your beliefs?

        Sigh…oh, well..thanks for time Jo Ann. Hope your day is whatever you want it to be 🙂

        • Jo Ann Jury

          Scott,
          Thank you for your well wishes and hope your day is a good one as well.

          As far as Mr. Werner’s ‘new age of reason ‘ comment, I find that no different than the rallying cry of Christians to ‘accept Jesus as your personal savior and be saved ‘. Christians have many full time missionaries whose primary function is to convince ‘others ‘ to convert to their way of thinking. Why would it be offensive for atheists to do the same thing?

          And no, I would never wish a heart attack or any kind of harm on anyone so I apologize for my use of sarcasm that may have given anyone that impression.

          • Scott

            Jo Ann, thanks for the response!

            Oh, please don’t misunderstand. I’m not offended in the least by Mr. Werner’s statement..it makes complete sense for him to make such a comment suited to his worldview and beliefs. No worries. And many thanks for your apology…that you used humor in your initial post was not lost on me!

            My point was…and is..this: Does Mr. Skelton agree with Mr. Werner? Does Mr. Skelton want the peace, justice, and equality for all?

            Again, many thanks to you!