Sometimes Losing is the Best Option

You’re the Superintendent of a school district. A couple high schools in your district don’t have suitable spaces for graduations.  So, by student vote with the principals’ approval and your acquiescence, the graduation ceremonies are held in the sanctuary of the church you attend.  Here’s what the church is like during the graduation ceremonies:

 [a] sizeable cross was not the only vehicle for conveying religious messages to graduation attendees. Upon passing through the exterior doors of the church, attendees proceeded into a lobby that contained numerous religious materials. Those materials included pamphlets for “middle school” and “high school” ministries. The middle school ministry pamphlet stated, “We are calling students to live and love like Jesus.” As the majority reports, ante at 7 n. 7, a poster on the wall asked, “Hey Jr. Highers! Who Are Your Heroes?” and depicts pop culture icons alongside Jesus Christ. Anticipating the desired answer to the poster’s question, there were several stations indicating that children and students (there were labels) could obtain religious literature tailored to them. Among the banners that have been draped from the lobby’s ceiling during graduation ceremonies is one that read “Children’s Ministry: Leading Children to a Transforming Life in Christ.” Moreover, all 360 degrees of the lobby’s substantial, circular information booth were stocked with religious pamphlets. It was staffed during at least some of the school district’s graduation ceremonies, and the literature was readily accessible even without the staff presence. Returning to the sanctuary itself, which is where the ceremonies took place, the pews were supplied with Bibles, hymnals, and additional informational literature. Children in attendance could find “scribble cards” in the pews on which “God’s Little Lambs” could draw. Anyone could partake of the cards soliciting membership in the church. During at least one graduation ceremony, church members passed out religious literature directly to audience members.

Although other high schools in your district rent suitable venues that are not churches, the sanctuary is comfortable and not unreasonably priced at $2,000.00. But over the years parents have objected to the arrangement. Some have questioned the propriety of you, the Superintendent, being in the decision-making loop that chooses your own church for graduation ceremonies. In addition, the plaintiffs in the court case explained that they

“felt uncomfortable, upset, offended,  unwelcome, and/or angry” because of the religious setting…. In fact, the setting completely ruined for Doe 5 the experience of his children’s graduation ceremonies, some of which he did not attend. Those plaintiffs still in school or with children still in school do not relish the prospect of attending future ceremonies at the Church.

There’s the scenario, Mr. Superintendent. How do you handle the situation? If you have the mentality of the warrior-evangelical, there’s really no option: you have to do your part to reclaim America, and it starts with graduation in the sanctuary. No doubt many will be following the appeal of this case to see if “we” win or the secularists win. But maybe winning isn’t always the best result.

The Superintendent is in somewhat of a self-contradictory position.  That is, if he insists on having the graduation in a sanctuary over the objections of parents and even at the risk of litigation, isn’t he implicitly taking the position that it’s important to have graduation in a church? And if it is important to have graduation in a church, doesn’t that mean the venue has religious significance after all? If it has religious significance, then the public school is sending a religious message to its students; such message-sending at least has the “color” of an establishment violation.

Coming from a different angle, all the high school parents sent their children to a public high school. For better or worse, that’s the deal. But isn’t the school district breaking the deal by then holding a public school graduation in a particular religious setting?

Finally, this kind of thing can backfire when you consider the big picture. If graduation in a big evangelical church is acceptable, then graduation in other religious settings is acceptable. Parents and students who are happy with an evangelical sanctuary might not be as pleased with the selection of a synagogue or mosque, but they are also possible public high school graduation venues if the evangelical sanctuary wins on appeal.

So, yes, sometimes “losing” is the best option.


Filed under Courts, Culture Wars, Establishment of Religion, Religious rights

3 responses to “Sometimes Losing is the Best Option

  1. MikeInIowa

    At my place of vocation, a semi-large evangelical church, the local school district uses our spaces with seemingly little disregard for the religious things that those in attendance would be exposed to. I’ve been surprised at the number in fact if we are to believe that the evil public schools hold to all things secular. This includes three public preschool classes per day, along with numerous band rehearsals and end of school year banquets. Now granted, literature is not handed out or as prominent as in your example, nor is there an overbearing “we must win them” attitude. It is really a low key, almost business relationship. I’ve often wondered if the school district (one you are very aquainted with) has ever received any flak over their choice of venue.

    • Mike, do they use the sanctuary? It might be legally significant if they are just using generic rooms.

      But even if they do use the santuary, aren’t Iowans just too nice to sue?

      • MikeInIowa

        No, they have not used the sanctuary. (actually termed “Auditorium”. maybe that could help keep things friendly if it was used) They simply rent classrooms and use the larger meeting rooms for banquets etc.
        And yes most Iowans are much too nice to sue. I mean afterall, there is free hot chocolate given on football Fridays.

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