TJCA will not have prayer on their graduation agenda
MOORESBORO – Clayton Fowler addressed the Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy School Board in March challenging the legality of the prayer offered at graduation services. Fowler charged the North Carolina Charter School with failing to adhere to the Establishment Clause which protects federally funded institutions from excessive entanglement with religion. Fowler requested that there be no prayer at the TJCA graduation ceremony.
Publicly funded high schools, including Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy charter school, are required to adhere to the Establishment Clause. As Fowler wrote below:
TJCA’s relationship with religion is governed on the state level under North Carolina G.S 115C-238.29F, a charter school “shall be nonsectarian in its programs, admission policies …” The law goes further to state that a charter school “shall not be affiliated with a nonpublic sectarian school or a religious institution.”
Fowler continued with:
Thomas Jefferson’s ‘charter’ status does not exempt it from the separation of church and state. As a publicly funded institution, it must adhere to the Establishment Clause, or face penalties. In the defense of our friends who are Atheist, Muslim, Agnostic, Hindu, Buddhist, and anything in between, we must hold our school accountable. This is not the first time that faculty/non-student led prayer has been an issue at TJ, but we can end this problem.
Both Fowler and TJCA School Board Chair Paula Staley cited a 1992 Supreme Court case, Lee v. Weisman, where the Court struck down policies of inviting members of the clergy to deliver invocations and benedictions at graduation ceremonies as a violation of the First Amendment Establishment Clause. Others may remember when then TJCA school board member Ted Bell opposed a similar issue when headmaster Joe Maimone defended a teacher who was leading her class with Christian prayer.
At the April monthly TJCA board meeting, a decision regarding having prayer on the graduation agenda was reached.
Chairperson Paula Staley responded to our inquiry as follows:
4/7/2017 11:45:04 AM
Subject: Re: Prayer at Graduation
No prayer by TJ at the graduation. We are a public school and will follow state and federal law.