To preface this post, let me say that I am posting a letter written by a very dear friend of mine on a topic that is very important to both of us. Shey has been my friend since we were preteens and she and I both identify as atheists. We both have younger siblings who are also atheists. Shey graduated from PikeView High School, and her little sister will be graduating this year. Both of my brothers attended PikeView High School for a time and another friend of ours graduated from PikeView, also an atheist. Unfortunately, PikeView has been ignoring our rights as U.S. citizens by holding the PikeView graduation ceremony in a church, complete with Christian prayers, completely ignoring that many of their students are of different faiths or do not have a faith. Shey wrote this letter to the Princeton Times addressing the matter.
However, we are afraid that the letter will simply be ignored, so I am posting her letter here in hopes of getting a few more people to read it.
Update: Shey just received an email from the Bluefield Daily Telegraph telling her that they will be publishing her letter. I am hoping sincerely that this will result in a change being made.
Update 2: Looks like the Princeton Times is also publishing this! Hoorah! Shey, you are very brave for doing this and I am SO PROUD OF YOU.
I graduated from PikeView High School in 2009 as a member of the National Honor Society, Geography Quiz Bowl team, Model UN team, Environmental Club, as a first chair West Virginia All-State Band musician and Class of 2009 Homecoming Queen. As these achievements may suggest, I took my high school education very seriously and contributed all that I could to the PikeView High School community. So, it was with great displeasure that I discovered my high school graduation ceremony would be held at the Princeton Church of God. I am not a Christian, and had always been subject to ridicule (by faculty and students alike) in school for this. As a child in the second grade, for example, I was told by my teacher that my name wasn’t special because it wasn’t a Bible name; in the eighth grade, my health teacher told me in front of the entire class that I would “burn in hell.”
I decided, however, to bite my tongue and make no complaints about the graduation location. I did not want to be the victim of any more abuse, nor did I want to spoil what I hoped would be a pleasant and important day; I was wrong to think it could turn out this way. If holding the ceremony in the church did not make me uncomfortable enough, there were also several “prayers” scheduled into the graduation program. I had to pretend to pray to a god I do not believe in, just to feel like I belonged at my own graduation—my own graduation from a public high school.
Several weeks ago, it was brought to my attention that not only is this practice still in effect, but also that the Americans United for Separation of Church and State have asked the Mercer County Board of Education to change the graduation location and remove the prayers from the ceremony, and the BOE has refused. I find this completely appalling. Other students like myself will be made to feel as bad as I did on their graduation, when this is something that could be so easily avoided. I know that those students who are not Christians are certainly the minority at PikeView High School, and in Mercer County. But, in America, and especially in public schools, the rights of minorities are just as important as those of the majority, and all students, no matter what their faith, deserve to feel equally accomplished and celebrated at their high school graduation.
Use of the Princeton Church of God is not “free” as was presented by the BOE, as it has come to light that monetary gifts of an undisclosed amount have been made to the church. There are other options available beyond the Princeton Church of God. Many students in America graduate from high school on the football field, with a move to the gymnasium in the event of rain. The limit of only one guest per student were the graduation to be held in the school gym seems to be an exaggeration given that the gym hosts well more than that number during important basketball games. We have a public university with several venues located 3 miles from the school. We have a beautiful state of the art performing arts center in Princeton. All of these options are preferable to a public school graduation being held in a church in a country where separation of church and state is a founding principle.
Link to Shey’s letter on Facebook