Pastor Alvin Dupree happens to be on the Appleton Area School District Board of Education in Wisconsin. That in itself isn’t a problem. It’s also why he was invited to speak at the Appleton North High School graduation ceremony last week.
But he turned that speech into a sermon. At one point, he urged the students to lean on their sources of strength, whatever that may be. For him, he said, it was God. (It starts at 1:08:39 in the clip below.)
… for me, my source of strength is my faith and my relationship with Jesus Christ. [Cheers in crowd.] It sounds like I’ve got some believers in this room. If you’re here and you believe that, go ahead and clap your hands…
Then, to close his speech:
… [Referring to the “script” given to him:] On behalf of the Board of Education of Appleton Area School District, it is my pleasure to commend each of you for your achievement and to publicly and formally accept the Appleton North High School Class of 2019 for graduation. Now, it was typed out to say “Best wishes.” But I’m changing their script to what I would say: “God bless.”
In what universe does Dupree think any of that is acceptable at a public school graduation? What he did was appalling, and the crowd certainly wouldn’t have cheered loudly if he were Muslim or atheist and saying the same things.
What’s even more damning is that this isn’t even Dupree’s first time doing this.
In 2017, the Freedom From Religion Foundation said Dupree crossed the line by promoting his faith during (wait for it) the graduation ceremony. They pointed out that he also “gave a presentation to a local political party entitled ‘Placing God in the Classroom.'”
At least now, dozens of students are pushing back.
Yesterday, a group of 29 students and graduates sent a letter to the School Board condemning what Dupree did, pointing out the Board’s errors in allowing this to happen, and urging them to make reforms so it never happens again.
The letter is absolutely incredible.
Like this section talking about the 2017 incident:
During the 2017 Appleton North High School Commencement ceremony, Pastor Dupree spoke as a school board member at graduation for the first time. After, he was spoken to about his use of the words, “Jesus Christ“ and “God,“ as this language imposed his faith upon the ceremony. In subsequent interviews, Pastor [Dupree] is on record as saying “I can’t say they won’t tell me to stop talking about Jesus,” he said, “but I can tell you I won’t do it.” This year‘s inappropriate speech given by Pastor Dupree was allowed due to a clear oversight by the AASD school board.
And this section about his actions last week:
In urging some in the crowd to applaud to show their belief in Christianity, Pastor Dupree attacked one of the basic tenets of public education. He created in and out-groups by allowing those in a majority group to differentiate themselves from “others“ and align themselves with a person in a position of power. His action not only made minority groups in the commencement crowd uncomfortable, but also displayed a deep disrespect for the teachers and administrators who everyday work to leave their biases at the classroom door in an effort to foster inclusive environments.
… This is not a situation in which Pastor Dupree‘s free speech rights are being repressed — it is one in which he inappropriately used his position as a public official to put his religious views on display.
And this section pointing out how the law works:
While Pastor Dupree may find it difficult to separate his roles as school board member and pastor, the Supreme Court of the United States has already made the necessity of that separation clear. Pastor Dupree, the school board, and the Appleton Area School District would do well to remember that public schools may not be used as a pulpit.
And this section offering advice for the future:
We ask the AASD not to invite Pastor Dupree to speak at any public school event in the future. We have no intention of attacking the character nor beliefs of Pastor Dupree. Pastor Dupree abused the opportunity to speak at the commencement ceremony by speaking about his faith for a large portion of his speech. We find that Pastor Dupree has shown his intentions to promulgate his Christian beliefs onto the students of AASD, which should not be stood for…
Our final request is that the AASD requires all speeches at Appleton Area Commencement ceremonies follow a script written previously by the speaker. If these scripts are not followed, we request that the microphone of the speaker be cut. Additionally, we request that these speeches be reviewed by each member of the AASD Board of Education and each member of the AASD Leadership Team. This systematic approach to organizing future graduation ceremonies will ensure that everything said is an appropriate reflection of the District‘s desire to separate the Church and the State.
Is it possible to give the graduating students who helped write this a second diploma? Because they deserve it.
The administration, however, isn’t accepting responsibility at all.
[Superintendent Judy] Baseman wouldn’t say whether the district will establish a new policy governing the content of commencement speeches. She instead emphasized the district’s work to promote inclusive practices. Baseman also commended the students for the respectful, articulate ways they expressed themselves in a meeting with her last week and in the letter.
“We’re continuing to work diligently as a Board of Education and a leadership team to make sure our graduation ceremonies are inclusive and welcoming to all,” Baseman said. “That’s our goal.”
WTF? A “goal” is winning a state championship because you have to work hard to achieve it. This is a simple fix that school board members could make in a heartbeat if they wanted to. The students laid out exactly how to make the graduation ceremonies inclusive and welcoming. Now the adults need to listen, not pretend like they have this under control since they clearly don’t.
What about Dupree? We already know he doesn’t care about the students. But he insisted he did nothing wrong:
“People of faith should not have to go in the closet while everyone else is allowed to be free and out of the closet,” Dupree said. “I did not impose or threaten or tell people that if they don’t believe like I believe that they’re wrong.”
He’s making an obvious logical mistake. (Shocking, I know.) He thinks people are trying to shut him up as a Christian when the actual argument is that speakers should keep their personal beliefs about religion (and politics and everything else potentially controversial) out of their talks. There’s a difference between students who give commencement speeches in which they come out as gay or talk about how faith got them through high school — and a board member who uses the opportunity to advertise his religion.
It’s possible Dupree could have gotten away with just saying Jesus Christ is his crutch in difficult times. But he went further, calling for a show of applause from fellow Christians and deliberately changing the script he was given to make it more religious. That’s where he went too far.
He’s a selfish pastor who doesn’t give a damn about the students.
Dupree has no business speaking at any other public events, even as a board member. The school board could easily pass a neutral policy that settles this issue for good. Unless they’re trying to invite a lawsuit over this, they’d be foolish not to fix the problem they created.
(Thanks to Brian for the link)