Maryland Public School District Must Not Allow Graduations At Churches, Says Americans United

School Officials Should Reject Pressure To Allow High School To Use Church For Secular Event

A Maryland public school district should resist pressure to allow graduation ceremonies in churches, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

This evening, the Montgomery County School Board of Education will consider a request to allow Blair High School to conduct its graduation ceremonies in a local church.

Officials with the Blair High School Parent-Teacher-Student Association argue that the Jericho City of Praise Church a building with religious iconography, including a large sign proclaiming “Jesus Is The Lord!!!” is a suitable venue for Blair’s graduation ceremonies. The association is urging the school board to alter district policy and allow Blair High School to conduct its graduation ceremonies at the church.

“The school officials need to find a venue welcoming to all students, regardless of their religious beliefs,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “The local church is not a proper setting for what is supposed to be a secular event.”

In 2005, at the behest of some school district parents, Americans United wrote to Montgomery County school officials urging them to create policy to bar the practice of holding graduation ceremonies in churches. The district issued such a policy, and Superintendent Jerry D. Weast has since denied requests for Blair High School to conduct its graduation ceremonies in a church.

But a law firm working with a Blair parent-teacher-student group is calling on the school board to re-write the policy to allow the school-sponsored events to be held in churches.

In a Jan. 25 letter to the Montgomery County Board of Education, Americans United warns that the law firm has misrepresented the law in this area, and that holding graduation ceremonies in churches “would constitute serious deprivations of students’ and parents’ constitutionally protected religious liberty” and “could expose the District to substantial risk of expensive litigation in which the District could not reasonably hope to prevail.”

“We urge the school board’s members to respect the religious diversity of its student body by declining to hold graduation ceremonies in houses of worship,” said Ayesha N. Khan, legal director of Americans United. “Unless the religious symbols are covered or removed, Montgomery County public school officials have a duty to find another, neutral site for commencement exercises.”

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.