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Letter to the Editor: Local School District Violates the Separation of Church and State at Graduation

letter to the editor

A letter submitted to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News

Dear Editor,

Public education is foundational to success and progress. While parents are free to homeschool their children — as my partner and I did — or send them to a private school, we must not starve, neglect, or demonize public schools.

Public schools are government institutions, governed by local, state, and federal laws. Children from all walks of life attend public schools. Tolerance and inclusion are expected when our children or grandchildren attend school. My partner and I have sixteen grandchildren attending the Stryker, Tinora, Fairview, and Defiance school districts. We expect our grandchildren to receive well-rounded educations, taught by teachers who understand the importance of secular education and the concept of separation of church and state. Alas, a few teachers and administrators have attempted to proselytize our grandchildren or push their Evangelical beliefs. This, of course, should never happen. Christians are free to be school teachers and school administrators, but their personal beliefs should play no part in instructing students.

Recently, I attended a high school graduation — one sponsored and directed by a local school district. What a proud day for our family as one of our older grandchildren graduated with honors. In the space of three generations, we have gone from me being the first person to go to college, to our grandchildren going off to study at major universities. We owe their success to our public school system and its dedicated teachers.

As a non-Christian, I am accustomed to school districts trampling over the First Amendment and the wall separating church and state. I recently told a lawyer for the Freedom From Religion Foundation when speaking with her about the increasing encroachment of Lifewise Academy in Ohio’s schools, that there were enough church-state violations in rural northwest Ohio for FFRF to set up a full-time litigation office in this area.

The graduation ceremony featured a local clergyman who felt duty-bound to put in a good word for Jesus and his peculiar version of Christianity. Using the J-O-Y acronym, he reminded graduates of the importance of putting Jesus first. Never mind the fact that many of the graduates and attendees are not Christians. To be told that rightly ordering one’s life requires Jesus is beyond offensive. Such talk belongs in church, not secular public school graduations. I told a family member later that I live by the Y-O acrynym: yourself first, others second — no Jesus needed.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney, Ohio


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    Progress is slow coming to the Buckeye it seems. I’m reminded of having my teacher lead the class in the lord’s prayer at Lincoln School. That was in the 40s. Didn’t bother me then. Now it’s disgusting.

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    Update us when the paper publishes your letter. I’m sure you’ll have quite a few people foaming at the mouth. Which makes them look possessed, frankly.

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    Give them an inch… I wonder why these believers seem entirely unaware that this behavior, besides being illegal, is just plain disrespectful? Bravo Bruce.

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      Because to these believers, they are fighting the good fight against the evil forces of socialism, liberalism, LGBTQ community, etc etc. They don’t really care about anyone who is not them.

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    Barbara L. Jackson

    Bravo Bruce again. My father was a public high school teacher and he would have never have approved of this. He taught German and English as a second language. He did not interfere in the religious values of either group of students. He tried to help the immigrant high school students whose parents did not speak English.

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    I recall my childhood church would have a special day for graduates. Graduates were invited to come in their cap and gown and congratulations in a church context could be observed. This is precisely what should be done. Don’t invite local clergy to a secular event, rather churches should invite graduates to come to their own church.
    I understand graduation is a rite, and as such many would like it to have an invocation, but save that for church.

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    John S.

    My late father, who was a politically conservative (with a small “c”) borderline Deist/agnostic, would have agreed 100% with you, Bruce. He would have at most been ok with a very general invocation, but the “give your heart to Jesus” sermon at a public school graduation would have definitely crossed the line for him. He would have also agreed with Troy- have a separate religious themed graduation at the local church, for those who wish to attend. I personally agree with this as well.

    According to the Gospels Jesus said that prayer and charity should be practiced discreetly, not due to fear of a very few anti-theistic bullies (which evangelicals would have you believe are lurking in every public school bathroom and library), but out of modesty of heart. I don’t think he would have endorsed his followers preaching to a captive audience at a public school graduation ceremony, and then claiming victim/martyr status when people who just wanted to come and have a good time seeing their loved one graduate complain about mixing overt Christian religious dogma with the ceremony.

    I would challenge anyone who tries to take this stance when they read your article to actually study the circumstances of the actual martyrs who died in the early centuries of Christianity. Hopefully they will discover just how good they have it in our country, no matter how secular and progressive it is. And maybe they’ll also figure out why the Founders created the Establishment Clause in the US Constitution.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    People who want public education to be shaped by their religious beliefs—or to otherwise tear down the wall between their church and government—never seem to understand that they can just as easily be harassed, assaulted, arrested or even murdered over said religious beliefs as people who don’t share them. It happens all the time In theocracies: Someone in power decides to run the state by Biblical or Sharia or whatever-religious law, and the next person who comes into power “shares” those beliefs but interprets them differently.

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    It’s all fun and games until the religious sect in power decides you’re a heretic and punishes you for that. So even though you’re a good Christian, if your sect isn’t the dominant one and you complain, watch out!

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