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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Graduation Gripe

Interesting:
A Muslim student sued the Newark public schools on Wednesday, claiming that he was unable to attend his high school graduation last June because it was held in a church. The student, Bilal Shareef, 18, said it was against his beliefs to set foot in any building with symbols involving God.

“The position I was put in was very, very uncomfortable,” said Mr. Shareef, who graduated from West Side High with a 4.0 grade-point average and is a student at Union County College in Cranford. He is seeking damages and an order to bar the use of churches for future graduations.
The article is unclear as to whether Shareef gave the school timely notice of the fact that entering a church was incompatible with his religious beliefs. If he did, and the school administration chose to hold it in a church anyhow, I believe he is absolutely justified in filing suit over being forced to miss his high school graduation.

Of course, aside from the question of whether the student was comfortable attending his own graduation if it was held in a church - are public school graduations even allowed to be held in a place of worship from a First Amendment point of view?

42 Comments:

Blogger Charlie Hall said...

I hope he wins the suit. Jews have similar halachot.

12:09 AM  
Anonymous m said...

i hope he wins if he warned them be4 hand. if he didnt wats wrong with doing it in the church. maybe it was the most convenient large place. just because it is a church that y should that mean u cant use the building. y is that showing favoritism to religion.

1:13 AM  
Blogger mother in israel said...

Attending graduation is not a constitutional right. My high school graduation was scheduled for Shavuot, and it was changed at the request of some observant students. However, my parents did not join in the protest and I would not have attended if the date hadn't been changed. Let us Jews save our lawsuits for more important issues.

2:37 AM  
Blogger YMedad said...

In my day, it was usual for schools without halls to seek out a cinema hall that wasn't showing in the morning or mid-afternoon. Do they still vote in churches?

5:36 AM  
Blogger YMedad said...

And discussing graduations, I'm waiting for your take on this one: Chinese Bnot Mitzva

6:19 AM  
Blogger David said...

I think mom-in-Israel is right. Lots of schools use the gi-normous churches, because there's no comparably sized hall which is as cheap.

Eschewing churches means that the schools will need to spend a lot more money on this, and I'm not aware of a school district which is all that flush with dough.

Besides, if one sends children to public, secular schools, one has to expect a certain amount of religious compromise (as opposed to sending them to private religious schools...)

6:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

mom in israel:
I disagree completely. It isn;t whether attending a graduation is a constitutional right. It's whether a government funded public schoolis allowed to hold an eventin a religious setting. Factor in the objections of the student in question, and I find the whole thing appalling. This is America, might I remind you? You may think that "Jews should save our lawsuits", but I think that these are precisely what lawsuits are for. It's a matter of discrimination.

8:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I graduated college I was invited to a ceremony where they would give out the degrees (the actual graduation was way too big since I went to a large private univerisity with many colleges in it). I was to accept the degree for my major (out of all the ppl in my major I must have had the highest average). A very big honor indeed. I had to decline because it was to be in a church. I also missed my phi beta kappa initiation ceremony because it was on the last day of Pesach.
It did not occur to me to sue (though in my case it was a private school). That is the choices we make when we are observant jews. It felt good to have some mesirat nefesh. I would save a lawsuit for something that really matters. Missing graduation is not enough of a big deal to me.

8:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I would save a lawsuit for something that really matters. Missing graduation is not enough of a big deal to me."

That's you. Maybe for someone else it is a big deal. Anyhow, this isn;t about whethyer it's important to you. It's about whether it's important to the muslim in the story. And it is. The bottom line is this is America. This shouldn't happen.

9:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm waiting to hear Dov Hikind speak out in support of this guy. Yeah, right.

9:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

no first amendment issue of holding graduation in church. certain steps may need to be taken (e.g. symbols may need to be covered) to ensure there is no appearance that the proceeding is religious, but schools often need large buildings and practicality, thankfully, reigns supreme.

9:44 AM  
Anonymous Observer said...

Anonymous 9:09, actually Dov Hikind speaks out for Muslims quite often (while I have no doubt that the fact that his District has a significan Moslem population plays a large role, he still deserves credit for it). The first few times I noticed it, I was very suprised.
As to the First Amendment issue, we do not even know if the graduation was held in a sanctuary or in a Church auditorium or some other room. I certainly believe that a public school graduation should not be held in a religious sanctuary if attending such a ceremony violates a student's religious beliefs AND if the student gave timely notice of the problem. Also, if the service were in a in an Anglican, or Presb., or other mainstream Protestant sanctuary, one or two bedsheets properly placed (if acceptable to church authorities) would likely have covered up all religious symbols and might have accomodated the student's beleifs. If it was held in a RC sanctuary, they would have had to cover virtually the entire room in order to cover all religious symbols.

9:47 AM  
Blogger Fern said...

What damages could this kid possibly have? He paid for a mortar board that he wasn't able to use?!

1:04 PM  
Blogger SephardiLady said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:04 PM  
Blogger SephardiLady said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:04 PM  
Blogger SephardiLady said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:04 PM  
Blogger SephardiLady said...

I imagine there is much more to this story than meets the eye. For starters, is his beliefs as a Muslim mainstream and held by other fellow students in a way that the administration should have been aware? I was unaware that Muslims were not allowed to step foot into Christian sanctuaries.

In addition, while I believe a student should get to attend a graduation and accomodations should be made, it is easier said than done. My public HS held graduation in the gym. There were not larger facilities in town (except for outdoor football stadiums and churches). That met that each student only got 4 tickets for family in friends. That is 2 parents plus one set of grandparents or 2 sibilings. Hardly a large quota. Also non-religious facilities can come with big price tags and it might not be in the budget.

There are a lot of considerations (assuming the school even knew) and I just don't see an outright 1st amendment violation and imagine making such decisions is super difficult.

1:04 PM  
Blogger Fern said...

Also, I must have been sleeping that day in law school because I am failing to see how holding a secular event in a room usually used for religious events violates the constitution. The primary test used to judge alleged establishment clause violations is the Lemon Test which requires that the activity must have (1) a legitimate secular purpose, (2) have the primary effect of neither advancing nor inhibiting religion, and (3) not result in excessive government entanglement with religion. The primary purpose of holding graduation in the church was the church presumably had the largest space available for rent at the cheapest price, the primary effect of holding the ceremony in the church is not advancing Christianity, and the Supreme Court has approved of other situations that require much more "entanglement" than holding a graduation ceremony in a church. So really, what exactly is the Constitutional violation here?

1:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the primary effect of holding the ceremony in the church is not advancing Christianity,

Observer makes a good point. I can see how holding the graduation in a church sanctuary, with the stained glass windows, giant crosses, and other religious imagery can be seen as advancing religion even aside from the objections from an individual student.

1:45 PM  
Anonymous Anon-o-mouse said...

Anon 8:03 and 9:08 (I'm assuming you're the same person). Let me introduce you to the apostrophe key that makes a nice mark like this: '. It's conveniently located next to the "Enter" key. Semi colons (;) are another punctuation species entirely and have no place in words like "isn't".

2:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had to vote by absentee ballot four years ago because our polling place was in a church!!

My HS school graduation was held on a Friday night so I did not attend that either. (there was no Jewish HS where and when we grew up).

2:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think it's a constitutional issue unless the use of the Church was done with the intention of fostering/inhibiting religion. I might have a better answer if I knew why the Church was chosen.

3:31 PM  
Blogger SephardiLady said...

I had to vote by absentee ballot four years ago because our polling place was in a church!!

My Rav said that if voting is only in a side annex building and not in the actual sanctuary it isn't a problem, although it is understandable that other Rabbonim are stricter.

4:04 PM  
Blogger seraphya said...

This is "inhibiting religion"

I don't think it has to be a problem for Jews though. The meiri mentions this!

5:32 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

Why is it a problem to go to a polling place in a church? You're voting, not praying!

6:07 PM  
Blogger Married and Navigating Jewish Brooklyn said...

Hopefully the person will win. If the State wishes to seperate state and religion in needs to ensure that all of the state does it.

6:51 PM  
Blogger YMedad said...

Found this comment:

Muslim student sues school district for holding graduation ceremony in a Baptist church. Guess he never heard of the "Standing in a garage doesn't mean you're a car" argument

4:21 AM  
Blogger muse said...

In my day the Great Neck Public School system had all sorts of events on Shabbat. After I became religious the sewing teacher knocked a whole grade off, because I wouldn't attend the fashion show.

All official reunions used to be on Friday nights.

5:44 AM  
Blogger Hila said...

Where I went to high school is a small, predominantly Christian area. There was one Jewish family in the area besides me (the ger). Our high school has a tradition of holding a Baccalaureate service the day before graduation, but it is held in the high school gym. Which is sort of the opposite. It's a religious service performed in a public school setting. However, it is not a required event, and some students who are Christian even choose not to attend. Graduation was also held in the gym (on the football field in years when weather cooperated) and that suited me just fine. It sort of irked me that the school condoned the whole Baccalaureate thing because it's a public school, but whatever. I didn't have to go so no big deal.

12:40 PM  
Blogger triLcat said...

Have public schools completely cut out Xmas songs and pageants?

When I was a kid, I learned "Silent Night" and "Oh Tannenbaum" and "Adeste Fidelis" and whatever else was there... My parents made a special request that I not be required to sing the songs, but there is a price to enjoying the benefits of a predominantly Xtian society.

Fortunately, where I live now, the public school children are taught "Sevivon Sov Sov Sov" and "Ner Li" in the winter, and most of the kids I know associate small flashing lights with sukkot and not with trees...

If you're not comfortable with American norms...

4:44 PM  
Anonymous Todd said...

I keep waiting for Hirhurim to do a long piece on "entering Church buildings" for various reasons.

10:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did he really say he would blow up the building if he didn't win the lawsuit? That's not exactly tolerant either. Tell him if he blows up the building I'm gonna draw Mohammed cartoons. Don't push me... I'm serious!

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