ASHEVILLE, N.C. — A school superintendent in North Carolina is expressing his disagreement with his colleagues that Christian prayers presented at a recent veteran’s event violated the district’s religion policy.
As previously reported, the North Buncombe High School Band Boosters hosted the ceremony last weekend as a kick-off to its “Field of Honor” flag display in honor of those who have served in the U.S. military. According to reports, the event also served as a fundraiser for the band’s goal to travel to Hawaii to perform at the Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade.
The event, which was held off school property, was organized by the band boosters and attendance was voluntary. However, because the event included prayers that referenced the name of Jesus, some students and at least one parent lodged a complaint to school officials. Local Pastor Jim Dykes presented both and invocation and a benediction at the ceremony.
North Buncombe Principal Jack Evans stated that he heard a complaint from one student, as well as a mother who identifies as a pagan.
“Basically she felt like it was inclusive of only one religion,” he told the Citizen-Times. “With it being a school event, even though it was off campus and on private property, unfortunately they are probably right. That is against the policy.”
The district holds to a religion policy that requires schools to “neither advance nor inhibit any religion or religious belief, viewpoint, expression, or practice.”
The principal agreed with the complainants, stating that the ceremony should have been more inclusive.
“As a school event, we should be following the expectations of our school system, and therefore it should have been more inclusive,” he said. “But it’s a learning opportunity for us.”
District representatives agreed, stating that because the ceremony solely presented prayers in the name of Jesus, the invocations were a violation of the religion policy.
“The event, while not on campus, included all members of the [North Buncombe High School] marching band, so it is against the policy as it’s a school-related function,” spokesman Jason Rhodes told reporters.
But Buncombe County Superintendent of Schools Tony Baldwin consulted with the Board of Education attorney about the matter, and was informed that it was permissible for the prayers to be predominantly in the name of Jesus.
“[The attorney] confirmed that because the event occurred on private property, was organized by a private group, did not involve the direct action of school employees, and was not a required activity for students—it did not violate the law or our school board policy,” Baldwin wrote in a statement.
Event organizer Marvin Mercer expressed appreciation for Baldwin’s comments, reinforcing that attendance at the event was not mandatory, and that only 70 of the 130 band members showed up for the ceremony.
“Obviously, in the future, there’ll be conversations about what we’re doing,” he said.