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Feb. 3, 2007

Holding graduation at Jericho does not violate the Constitution

by Pia Nargundkar, Online Editor-in-Chief
We the people of Montgomery Blair, in order to form a more perfect graduation, establish a site placing the least burden on tax payers, ensure seating for all, provide for the comfort of the aforementioned, promote the general sentimentality worth of such an event and secure this site to ourselves and our posterity, do wish to ordain and establish Jericho as our graduation venue.

This week, MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast announced that Montgomery County would pay $35,000 in order to move Blair's graduation ceremony for the class of 2007 from Jericho City of Praise to the Comcast Center at the University of Maryland. Holding Blair's graduation at Jericho, a church, would violate the separation of church and state, according to Weast.

However, Weast is wrong to the tune of $35,000; using Jericho City for a graduation ceremony is not a violation of the Constitution. The first amendment states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." Montgomery County is by no means sanctioning one religion when it allows Blair to hold its graduation in a church — after all, a church is nothing more than a building when it is used for secular activities. Using Jericho City, which comfortably seats approximately 10,000 people with no charge to the Blair community or county, is a matter of practicality — not an endorsement of Christianity. Having Blazers graduate in a church because it is large, comfortable and free is very different from asking them to attend a service there. In addition, Jericho City of Praise removes all mobile religious icons for the ceremony.

While it is important to respect the separation of church and state, asserting that anything that remotely couples religion and public school is a violation of that principle is ludicrous. This rule was meant to protect the rights of citizens to practice their own religion without fear of prosecution or feelings of inferiority. By asking Blazers to graduate in a church, the county is neither expressing its preference for one religion nor is it asking students to express theirs.

Weast is playing it safe in an effort to avoid litigation by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, an interest group based in Washington D.C. So Weast is spending $35,000 on Blair's graduation, $33,000 more than the typical allocation per school, because of the chance of a lawsuit. Although Blazers and their guests do not have to shoulder the extra cost, the money going toward graduation will come out of taxpayers' pockets. Additionally, due to issues of fairness, the county has agreed to pay the full cost for the graduation of all MCPS high schools, amounting to around $125,000. The funding now being spent on graduation sites could instead have gone to purchasing textbooks, upgrading technology, fixing plumbing, funding extracurricular activities, renovating older schools, hiring teachers and countless other more beneficial areas.

Using the Comcast Center is not a blanket solution, nor is it a smart one, when the only reason for choosing it is the fear of being sued. The county cannot continue to pay such an exorbitant cost for graduations annually, nor can Blair get special treatment. A more viable solution is recognizing the true definition of church and state and using the widely supported venue of Jericho City of Praise.



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  • Someone you may know on February 3, 2007 at 10:36 PM
    Thank you Pia for actually looking at the Constitution. You have more of a brain than the majority of this nation.
  • Steven on February 3, 2007 at 10:49 PM
    Jericho! Jericho! Jericho! Jericho!
    Who's with me?!
  • yay pia on February 3, 2007 at 11:43 PM
    weast is dumb...
  • Republican on February 4, 2007 at 9:24 AM
    Yup, I agree. While we're at it, let's tear down the capitol and let the congressmen meet in Jericho. Free, comfortable, and clearly not expressing preference for one religion over another.
  • Cat_inthehat on February 4, 2007 at 10:13 AM
    here comes the flame war....
  • Libertarian (View Email) on February 4, 2007 at 11:52 AM
    Yep, completely agree. Nicely put.

    "Yup, I agree. While we're at it, let's tear down the capitol and let the congressmen meet in Jericho. Free, comfortable, and clearly not expressing preference for one religion over another." - Republican

    First off it would not be free for them to meet in the church every day. Secondly it would be choosing one religion over another because they picked Jericho over another place of worship. The key is that Jericho is close, free, and seats enough people. If it were a Mosque, I'm sure we'd do it there as well. That's the reason. It wasn't picked because it was religious. If it were a warehouse, a business, a church, mosque, synagogue, or any other place of worship, we would still want to have graduation there. If Congress chose to meet there, we'd have to wonder why they chose it over first of all their current capital, second of all any other building offering the same services. For example if the Comcast Center were to give us the use of their building for free, I'd be for it 100%, but it costs money, lots of money. Think about this: $35,000, approximately 900 graduating seniors. I'll take the almost 40 bucks.
  • Amen on February 4, 2007 at 12:55 PM
    testify.
  • Republican on February 4, 2007 at 3:06 PM
    Libertarian, you claim that because religion was not a consideration when choosing the graduation site, the end decision does not show preference of religion and thus should not offend Muslims, atheists, etc. at all. I agree with this statement so much that I will demonstrate this to the people who may not have successfully visualized this connection.

    Suppose you are an atheist who disagrees with all things religious and that you do not accept Jesus as your savior. Wouldn’t you just be honored that something you may view as one of the most important moments of your life (graduation) is held in a Christian church?

    Suppose, again that you are a Muslim who believes that there is nothing worth worshipping but Allah himself. Wouldn’t you again just be honored that “Jesus is our Lord” appears in your graduation picture and that you would be able to say that you graduated in a Christian church?

    These fine young men and women have toiled through many years of education and now are entering into the world through the Christian church doors.


    When the two words, religion and state, comes together, there is one way, and only one way, to interpret it and that is, the government will not sanction any religion. Choosing Jericho definitely does not sanction Christianity (because we are not being told to convert to Christianity) so therefore, no one should be offended because it does not conflict with the Constitution of the United States of America!
  • liberal on February 4, 2007 at 5:47 PM
    Tax payers will not be affected by this change. If we go to Jericho then we will be publicly financing a religious institution which is unconstitutional, Separation of Church and State. More over if we have graduation at Comcast it will be financing a public institution with public funds. Thus, it will increase local taxes slightly though, it will decrease state tax the same amount because the college will need less funds. MICRO-ECONOMICS!!

    And also Jericho is NOT widely supported it is not even supported by the majority of seniors. GET YOUR FACT STRAIGHT!!

    This kind of editorializing is one in which does not allow for both sides of the issue to be represented fairly and justly. There are many people in which think that Jericho is a good idea but the MAJORITY does not. I will leave you with a little anecdote. In 2005 my brother graduates at his private high school. My brother's best friend is a devout Muslim and his school was graduating at a synagogue in DC. The look on my brother's face for being forced to be at a temple for his graduation it would bring tears to your eyes.
  • Libertarian (View Email) on February 4, 2007 at 10:33 PM
    "Tax payers will not be affected by this change. If we go to Jericho then we will be publicly financing a religious institution which is unconstitutional, Separation of Church and State. More over if we have graduation at Comcast it will be financing a public institution with public funds. Thus, it will increase local taxes slightly though, it will decrease state tax the same amount because the college will need less funds. MICRO-ECONOMICS!! " - liberal

    Well it's coming out of the pockets of MCPS. Is the budget going to go up for MCPS because of this transfer of funds? Or will this money that could have been spent on MCPS schools be spent at the University of Maryland? I would guess the latter.

    "And also Jericho is NOT widely supported it is not even supported by the majority of seniors. GET YOUR FACT STRAIGHT!!

    This kind of editorializing is one in which does not allow for both sides of the issue to be represented fairly and justly. There are many people in which think that Jericho is a good idea but the MAJORITY does not." - liberal

    Really? I have yet to meet a senior in real life who wanted to graduate at the equestrian center over Jericho. But no one's stopping you from conducting a poll. Why don't you get your facts straight?

    "I will leave you with a little anecdote. In 2005 my brother graduates at his private high school. My brother's best friend is a devout Muslim and his school was graduating at a synagogue in DC. The look on my brother's face for being forced to be at a temple for his graduation it would bring tears to your eyes." - liberal

    And the look of the KKK leader's face after having to look at a black person in public would bring tears to your eyes too. It doesn't matter what their eyes look like. It brings tears to some peoples' eyes to see the American flag burned, I have yet to meet a liberal who agrees with banning that (I don't btw). If it bothered him THAT much, why was he at the graduation?
  • sigh on February 4, 2007 at 11:20 PM
    I too am extremely liberal, and am ashamed that I have to disagree with what you say, liberal. When you speak, you yourself do not actually use any real facts or numbers and state your own editorialized opinion as fact. Please allow me a moment of your time:
    "If we go to Jericho then we will be publicly financing a religious institution"
    clearly you did not read the article, or pay attention to the infoflow anouncement when it was clearly stated that: "graduate in a church because it is large, comfortable and free."
    notice the word "free" meaning "36. without cost, payment, or charge." according to dictionary.com.

    "And also Jericho is NOT widely supported it is not even supported by the majority of seniors"
    I tend to disagree with you on this one. My mom uses the PTSAnet forums (or whatever they are called) and was telling me how everybody posted and was happy that the graduation had been moved to Jericho, except for one lady who was worrying about the price (which incidentally, as stated above, is free)
    You mention that it is not even supported by the majority of seniors. I question three things: 1. What is the actual percentage of people you interviewed about this topic who do not support the graduation site? 2. Did you ask anyone about this? 3. What polling methods did you use? Did you just ask your friends/close peers (If you did you committed a huge statistical fallcy and have no reason to believe that the opinions of your small group of friends is anyway representative of the majority of seniors.)
    Again you mention the MAJORITY (if it's in all caps IT MUST BE CORRECT!) without stating anything about your methods of sampling. I would value this opinion if you had a poll that followed proper procedures. Please get back to me when you have, and I'll be all ears.

    Anecdotes about another school have no meaning to the students at Blair unless you can prove that students in both environments act the same (which I doubt because you say it was a private school)

    P.S. Check your grammar before posting: "FACT" should be "FACTS"
    "This kind of editorializing is one in which does not allow" does not make any sense. maybe, "This kind of editorializing does not allow" or something along those lines?
    Also, "it" in your last sentence makes it wrong.
  • re: liberal (View Email) on February 5, 2007 at 12:07 AM
    actually, not true, we are not "financing" a religious institution. we are merely offering a payment for the use of an office building. who cares if it were at a mosque, a synagogue or a temple? all that matters is that we have a building that is well within the price range and accomodating.

    micro-economics? um, instead of making this a lot more complicated than it needs to be, why not simply spend less money and keep the effects a lot smaller. savvy?

    the biggest problem you have here is that you find a problem with using Jericho as a graduation place. the actual thing here is that liberals (sorry, i really shouldn't use the term liberal here, because i know liberals who don't really care about the use of Jericho) decide to raise a ruckus any time the words, church and state are used in the same sentence.

    the point here is, if you make a big deal about using a religious center for a non religous event, your point is moot.

    build a mosque next door to blair that could accomodate the school's needs and at a fair price, i am SURE that the school would have no problem with using the mosque. if something so slight ( and it is slight. why are you taking offense at a building? i am a very devout catholic, and a very conservative person for that matter, but i would understand the school's reasons for using Jericho. why can't you stop looking too hard into the matter?)

    so really, get over it. it doesn't really matter.
  • capn crunch (View Email) on February 5, 2007 at 5:52 PM
    to all of you who disagree with jericho, how do you feel about AP testing? i haven't heard any of you even mention the fact that thats held in a church.. what should we do, distribute AP tests equally among different relgious buildings so no one feels unrepresented? theres a pretty cool ukrainian orthodox church way up new hampshire avenue, im sure that could work...



    seriously, pia's right, if you're literate.
  • Jordan Turner (View Email) on February 6, 2007 at 12:06 AM
    This whole argument is ridiculous if you think about it. Correction: this whole argument is just ridiculous. Period. "It doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. It isn't the bottom of the barrel. It isn't below the bottom of the barrel. It doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels." Yes, it is round two (or three?) of beating up on the minority position with far-out arguments despite the obvious fact that this whole ruckus will do nothing to change the location of graduation. But heck, I'll bite.

    This forum is full of straw-man arguments left and right... I'll spare "capn crunch" the brunt of my disgust (and leave "Republican"'s Capitol argument for another day), but it begins with his question that could be answered with "because that's not what the article's about" and ends with his statement that suggests that those who do not agree with Pia are illiterate. Oh dear "capn crunch", don't you know that rule number thirty-five of debate is that a personal attack on an opponent is a glaring sign of weakness in your argument? Stick to fact (actually "sigh", that's not a grammar mistake, but I'm honored that you believe grammar corrections somehow make your point).

    I see at least one person taking the treacherous low road paved with the concept that symbols mean nothing. You know… it's not a "church", it's just an "office building" often used for religious activities (kudos to "re: liberal"). No, I am not cursing at that kid over there; I'm merely sticking up my middle finger. Furthermore, there are some who feel one person's religious affiliation makes one an expert on what all [insert followers of religion here] think. See "liberal". And we have resorted to CAPITAL letters (see "liberal" again) to emphasize points that don't need emphasizing, like "micro-economics" (shouldn't that… uh… be micro?). Someone ("sigh") suggested that an opponent get back to him/her when (s)he could despite the fact that the person did not leave an e-mail address or a real name. There are others who appear to have mind-reading abilities and know precisely what would have occurred had there been in the region a 10,000-seat temple or 10,000-seat mosque (wait, what, there are no seats in Islamic prayer halls!).

    I am enthused by the empathy the Blair general public appears to have toward the direction in which $125,000 will be spent this year. I mean, after all, money is never wasted. We never buy unnecessary clothing and food when there are millions going hungry each day. MCPS hasn't spent a dime on school sports teams knowing fully well that there are students struggling to succeed in their classes. NASA's aspirations to put a human being on Mars are justified by the 110% guarantee that the cure for cancer is located beneath the Martian surface. And, naturally, the apocalypse will occur if we shut off the lights on the Eiffel Tower, so that excuses that expenditure. No siree, you cannot put a price on those vital luxuries, but we can put a price on doing what's right (I believe the consensus is somewhere around $2,500).

    I respect Pia's argument, but I couldn't care less what the U.S. Constitution allows us to do. The U.S. Constitution is not the final arbiter of what's right and wrong; that's why amendments are permissible (note that for awhile slavery was not prohibited). It's a perpetually incomplete document. But one thing I know for sure is that no where does it say that virtuosity can be sacrificed when the lesser option is cheaper. We are a diverse public school and we deserve to graduate in a neutral location, free with any subtle "Jesus Is The LORD!!!" signs or overt depictions of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. If there was no other feasible option available, then perhaps Jericho would be the best of options. Perhaps. But the Comcast Center has become a feasible option; feel free to put a price tag on Doing the Right Thing(R), but you will see me do no such thing.

    I refuse to be a slave to the U.S. Constitution (that was outlawed in the 13th Amendment).
  • Eli Barnett on February 6, 2007 at 8:53 AM
    Well put. And, of course, according to the article, MCPS never does anything else out of fear of being sued...c'mon, look at the closed campus policy
  • af on February 6, 2007 at 10:59 AM
    that's the best comment I've ever seen on sco.
  • Matt on February 6, 2007 at 11:57 AM
    Pia wrote: "This rule was meant to protect the rights of citizens to practice their own religion without fear of prosecution or feelings of inferiority."

    Exactly. And when the government hosts a government event in a Christian church, complete with "Jesus Loves You" signs, non-Christians might feel like outsiders.

    Likewise, having a graduation at the local headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan (with the sign "White Power") might make African Americans feel like second-class citizens.

    Locations and the messages in those locations are not irrelevant. A secular location is the only appropriate venue for a secular event.

    Btw, if a church is "just another building," as the Orwellian among us would have us believe, then we should stop building public schools and just have all classes in churches, right? If not, why not?
  • I didn't read the comments. on February 6, 2007 at 3:01 PM
    If you're against Comcast: stop b****ing, start a revolution.


    And don't you people have homework to do?
  • ok on February 6, 2007 at 8:22 PM
    why not have classes in churches? or anywhere else for that matter? if they are able to provide the kinds of services, facilities, etc to do the job and it's more economically feasible to rent out the building than to build a school, then there really is no reason.
  • Matt on February 7, 2007 at 12:42 AM
    Hmmm, except for that pesty separation of church and state thing (Constitution).
  • hmmm on February 7, 2007 at 11:47 AM
    pia==beast

    and for the rest of you:

    The government should not endorse any business (which includes basketball teams.) Sure, it doesn't SAY so in the constitution, but that doesnt matter, judging from the way that yall have been parroting that idea around. This means that any basketball symbols which may offend fans of other college teams should NOT BE PRESENT at the once-in-a-lifetime experience of graduation. Suppose there was a lifelong Duke fan who was offended by the symbols. and certainly mcps should not pay $35000. doesn't that violate "seperation of basketball and state?"
  • Eli Barnett on February 7, 2007 at 12:30 PM
    Do the people making intelligent responses a favor and please read the comments before posting.
  • umm on February 11, 2007 at 8:42 PM
    Just curious...if you don't want your graduation to be at a church...shouldn't you be against taking your AP exams at church???
  • sigh (again) on February 20, 2007 at 9:24 PM
    Jordan-
    Firstly I'd like to clarify some issues with my first post. I didn't leave a name or email address to which someone could get back to me, however, I would like to point out that this forum is a more than capable place for discourse and dispersion of facts (or as I suggested, results from a survey). I assumed that it was clear that I meant that someone could respond to my post with something on here along the lines of: "No actually, you're wrong. 70% of seniors think graduation at Jericho is a bad idea" or perhaps "I took a survey and found that 43% of seniors think that graduation at Jericho is a good idea." That would be fine. No contact information is necessary.

    Secondly, I only addressed the issues of grammar and spelling as a sidenote to my actual argument. The reason for this is namely that rules of spelling and basic grammar were created for a reason (although I admit some rules seem entirely arbitrary) and that these rules make it easier to communicate. itz hrd for commuincacion if ppl to wr1t3ing bad. That was a total exaggeration, but my point is that I find it annoying, and most grammar and spelling issues are easy to avoid. Sorry for being an over-the-top grammarian.

    Thirdly, you talk about people wasting money on clothes and food and people are starving around the world and the Eiffel Tower's lights are wasting energy etc etc. I admit that these are huge problems in the world, however they are not remotely related to the debate at hand. MCPS is granted funding to better the educational opportunities students in the county are able to get, and to provide funding for activities to help foster the youth of the county. Other programs (mostly in the federal government) are designed to provide international funding for people in need. I believe that the money MCPS is given should not be spent on holding a graduation, but should be spent on buying more books or computers for under-funded schools in the county, however much it can. Whether or not MCPS should be getting all the money that it is to better the education of its own children, or if that money should be spent investigating into new forms of energy or finding the cure for AIDS is an entirely different argument. Bringing in opinions about Americans' self-indulgence and needs for fancy clothes brought on by heightening individualism is distracting and unnecessary.

    That's all I have to say about that. But by the way, I do agree with you that people lack the ability to decrease their own contributions to the energy crisis. I find it bad enough that I sit at my computer for about an hour a day doing whatever to entertain myself, and find it almost unbearable that some are constantly spending time on it whether playing games, chatting, listening to music, or editing wikipedia.
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