Houston school employees won’t mention religion at graduations

wcrenshaw@macon.comMay 2, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- No prayers, hymns or religious references will come from Houston County school system employees at upcoming graduation ceremonies, but it doesn’t mean the events will be God-free zones.

In the wake of litigation threats over religious content in last year’s graduations, Superintendent Robin Hines said the law is clear that school employees cannot inject religion into the ceremonies, but what others may choose to do is up to them. Graduation is May 24-25.

“If the valedictorians want to thank their parents, grandparents and God, that’s freedom of speech,” Hines said. “We can’t stop that. As long as it’s not lewd, they can say whatever they want.”

The Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation sent the school system a letter last year objecting to religious content at the graduations. The organization said it had gotten multiple complaints from Houston County residents about the religious nature of the events.

Hines said, under the law, the school system doesn’t have a choice in the matter. He said if people want the policy to change, that will have to come from the court system and legislators.

Terri Minter, whose daughter is a rising senior at Veterans High School, said she was disappointed in Hines.

“I cannot for the life for me understand what in the world would cause him to be afraid to stand firm to his beliefs,” she said. “Just because you have the voice of a few that don’t want it, we should not have to be afraid.”

She disputed that the law is clear on the matter.

At the National Day of Prayer event at Warner Robins City Hall, Dave Hanson, pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Warner Robins, offered a prayer for schools and colleges. Afterward, the former public school teacher said he understands the action Houston schools are taking.

“I have no problem with it, frankly,” he said. “Government-endorsed prayers are very complicated because you have different faiths. I don’t think we should impose our faith on others.”

Jo Teague, who also attended the prayer service, had a different point of view. She has grandchildren in the Houston school system.

“I really am upset about that,” she said. “Once they take prayer out of school, our country falls. Our children need to know that there is a God that protects us.”

Neither Bibb nor Jones counties include any sort of prayer or hymn during their graduations. Monroe County has a student-led prayer during graduation.

Staff writer Phillip Ramati contributed to this report. To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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