Brave Student Objects to Public School’s Religious Graduation Ceremony June 2, 2010

Brave Student Objects to Public School’s Religious Graduation Ceremony

***Update***: The school issued a response regarding the religious ceremony:

1. The baccalaureate ceremony is a privately sponsored religious event. The Tamaqua Area School District is not and will not be involved in or associated with the baccalaureate ceremony and does not or will not endorse the ceremony in any way.

2. As a public school entity, the Tamaqua Area School District does not or will not require any student to attend the baccalaureate ceremony.

3. The Tamaqua Area School District may not and will not provide any information regarding the date, time, location or content of the baccalaureate ceremony to the students. Such information may be provided to parents, employees or public upon specific request.

4. In their official capacity, Tamaqua Area School District employees are prohibited from participating in the baccalaureate ceremony.

5. Tamaqua Area School District employees are not required to attend the baccalaureate ceremony and will not be required to attend the ceremony in the future.

What is it about the graduation season that makes high school administrators so ignorant of basic laws and high school seniors so courageous in response?

In Tamaqua, PA, senior Ryan Miorelli is a class officer at a public high school and he was told to attend Baccalaureate, a religious ceremony.

He said he wasn’t going.

A class officer, Miorelli said he wasn’t attending Baccalaureate. The staff member reportedly told him he would be stripped of his office if he didn’t attend. And internal school documents show the high school principal, RuthAnn Gardiner, supported that decision.

Miorelli called the ACLU and received immediate representation in the matter.

The ACLU first sent a letter of legal demand to the district. The documents, obtained by the I-Team, show the ACLU required the district to formally distance itself from Baccalaureate services, since they were religious in nature.

… Miorelli said he was taking heat over his decision, again, to stay clear of the church. He said things heated up after he discovered nomination petitions for class officers included language that required anyone elected to class office attend Baccalaureate.

How is the school responding to Miorelli and the ACLU?

They’re claiming it was all just one big mistake…


School Board President Larry Wittig said the nominating petition using the language that students were “required” to attend was an error, a typo.

Miorelli didn’t attend the ceremony. But the ceremony did occur, breaking the law.

The Tamaqua Area School District is just asking for a lawsuit.

It would be wonderful poetic justice if it was one of the district’s own graduates who came back to sue the district one day…

(Thanks to Justin for the link!)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Bob

    How is it that a public school is holding a baccalaureate MASS?

  • Erp

    As long as it isn’t endorsed or mandated by the public school (or other government entity) a baccalaureate is legal (a local church or collection of churches is free to organize such an event). The school has issued a memo:

    Also a discussion started back in December and going up to the present time.

  • Erp

    Also the baccalaureate was Christian but not a mass (held in a Catholic church but the preacher was the local United Church of Christ minister).

  • Boudica

    We just attended a baccalaureate here in Texas for our daughter. It was optional. A rabbi, priest, and minister spoke. It was overly religious (I thought), but I appreciated the message to get out there and change the world.

  • My public school had a Baccalaureate. Thankfully it was optional, so I didn’t go. I didn’t realize they were breaking the law in endorsing one. I see the light now. (haha)

  • plutosdad

    What I don’t understand is why Christians say their rights are being violated when they aren’t allowed to use government agencies to force their religion on people.

    Just like some comments in the other threads, people were allowed to pray, that girl even read from the Bible during her speech, yet they still complained that they weren’t allowed to. Hello! She was praying and reading from the bible on tape! But they continue to dissemble and say she wasn’t allowed to.

    I guess being in the majority makes some people think they can do whatever the hell they want to minorities. Thank goodness Jefferson and others decided we needed a bill of rights. No wonder they hate him so much.

  • Heidi

    My son’s (public) school had one yesterday. He didn’t go. Wish I’d known it was religious beforehand, though. It’s on the district calendar as a school event. Not cool.

  • Siamang

    “School Board President Larry Wittig said the nominating petition using the language that students were “required” to attend was an error, a typo.”

    Well, that seems a perfectly logical explanation, I mean whAny studentelected to class officeXis required to attendBaccalaureate.

    Sorry, my fingers just slipped on the keys there. Darn typos.

  • Matt

    Has anyone else noticed a trend amongst these stories where the offending establishment claims some kind of bullshit excuse that nobody with half a brain believes? Typos? Yea right…

    I would gain back a good chunk of respect for the school if they had fessed up to their wrong doing.

  • Dan W

    Typo my ass. These schools who do this sort of thing always try to come up with some bullshit excuse for breaking constitutional law. I’m glad my high school administrators were sane enough to not try to push religion into the graduation ceremony.

  • I notice that their statement refers to “the baccalaureate” (notice the definite article). Any church should be able to hold their own baccalaureate service for their own members (that’s how it was done around here when I graduated. Maybe there is only 1 church in town and everyone from that school attends that church…but by referring to “the” baccalaureate, we can only assume they are talking about the one which was the center of the recent controversy (in effect, indirectly promoting it). They also don’t need the part about providing information to people “upon specific request”. They shouldn’t be doing the churches job of giving people information about it. If the church wants people to know about it’s service they can take out an ad in the local paper and let people know. If they change that and change the “the”‘s to “a”‘s I think it would be well within the law.

  • wv atheist

    The high school I teach at had a baccalaureate service last week for the seniors – it was held a few days before just for the seniors – and then decided to have it again for the rest of the school body as a way of encouraging the underclassmen to step up and commit to finishing their schooling.

    Now – doing a bit of reading for this topic, I found that baccalaureate services did begin as a celebration for those students who were graduating as ministers with a university degree. However, current times do not demand that this service have a religious affiliation or overtone.

    The repeat service at my school for the underclassmen was strictly secular. Absolutely no praying, bible references, religious songs/music, anything. The school principal spoke as did three of the top graduating seniors. Not a whiff of religion was anywhere in any of the speeches.

    So – to that end – don’t ASSUME that all baccalaureate services automatically include religious stuff – but be aware and keep school systems on their toes.

  • Tamaqua Resident

    There’s a dozen churches here. There’s always been just the one baccalaureate, as organized by the school. Oh, but don’t worry, they touch all religions so as not to offend anyone. Even years, they use a Catholic church; odd years, a Lutheran church. And are there really any other religions in the world?

    It’s ridiculous.

  • Heidi

    The one at my son’s school was definitely religious in nature. I asked him what it was, and he said “oh, some church thing.” Clearly he was very interested in it. lol.

    My high school didn’t have any such thing. Kind of makes me feel like we’re backsliding.

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