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.
Pia Nargundkar. Pia Nargundkar was Editor-in-Chief of Silver Chips Online during the 2007-2008 school year. More »