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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Dallas school districts controversial use of religious buildings


Dallas Morning News writes a report on the topic and includes some of my comments in the article following my notes.

The School District’s decision to hold the commencement ceremonies at churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious buildings without restrictions does not bode well in the long haul.

A few religious places will be generous in their offer; however, it implies an association with that place of worship and carries the baggage in the long haul. What if the new pastor is a bigot and has a problem with gay or lesbian kids or kids of other faiths. It is always the individual that drives the society towards ill-will or goodwill. Why do we need to subject ourselves to such whims?

We are a pluralistic society and deeply want our kids to grow up and interact with the real world out there that comprises people of different faiths, races, ethnicities and sexual orientation. A religious building does not offer such an environment, even with a few exceptions.

The Federal court just rejected a referendum in Oklahoma to ban families from seeking guidance from international or Sharia law to resolve disputes among family members even though 70% of the voters had approved it. In California proposition 5 met the same fate years ago and the Farmers Branch overwhelmingly approved the anti-immigration bill, which is in the courts now.

I would suggest the board members not to vote for this motion; the school will end up squandering money on legal suit rather than children’s education.

As a pluralist, I do welcome this, but since we are still not there we have to hold this off.
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Mike Ghouse is committed to building a cohesive America and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day. A writer, thinker and a speaker and is available to speak on pluralism, politics, Islam, peace, cohesive societies and a variety of topics. Check out 4 websites and 27 Blogs indexed at www.MikeGhouse.net. Current articles at www.TheGhousediary.com
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ACLU warns Dallas ISD against plan to allow graduations at churches
By TAWNELL D. HOBBS Staff Writer thobbs@dallasnews.com
http://www.dallasnews.com/news/education/headlines/20120113-aclu-warns-dallas-isd-against-plan-to-allow-graduations-at-churches.ece
Published: 13 January 2012 12:26 AM

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas is warning Dallas ISD to “tread cautiously” on loosening restrictions to allow graduations at churches and other religious facilities.

Dallas school trustees discussed the proposal at Thursday’s board briefing. Two of eight trustees voiced concern about the plan, which will be considered Jan. 26.
The change would eliminate a clause that prohibits commencement exercises from being held at churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious sites without permission of the superintendent, and only under extenuating circumstances when no other nonreligious facility is available.

District officials said the change is being proposed because some schools have for years been using churches for graduations. The schools, which were not aware they were violating board policy, raised the issue with district administration, they said.
But the ACLU of Texas said in a news release Thursday that it cannot understand why DISD would consider changing what the group calls a “neutral policy.” It also noted that such a change could result in legal proceedings.

“DISD should tread cautiously in this area,” Lisa Graybill, ACLU of Texas’ legal director, warned in the news release. “The current policy provides a safeguard to ensure commencement exercises are held in appropriate, nonsectarian locations where all students, their families, and school personnel feel equally comfortable. Changing the policy could ultimately result in a constitutional challenge and costly litigation.”

The ACLU of Texas also submitted a public information request to the school district, asking for information that includes costs for off-site events and the reason for the proposed change.

Board President Lew Blackburn said that neither he nor school attorneys have a problem with the proposal. Blackburn said that he has attended graduations at churches and that nothing religious occurred.

Several Dallas school trustees, including Bruce Parrott and Carla Ranger, said they were unaware of the ACLU’s misgivings when they discussed the matter at Thursday’s meeting. Parrott and Ranger voiced concerns about the proposal during the discussion.

pointed to a similar situation that involved the separation of church and state in the Irving school district last year. The ACLU of Texas had contacted that district with questions about a plan to hold graduations at The Potter’s House church. In response, district officials decided against the move.

“We don’t need to be involved with any lawsuit,” Parrott said. “We’ve got a policy; let’s just adhere to the policy.”

Ranger voiced similar concerns.

“We all know there have been problems in other places because of this very issue,” she said. “Removing this would put us in a situation that we don’t want to be in.”
The vast majority of religious leaders contacted Thursday agreed that the school district should not make such a change.

“I would suggest the board members not to vote for this motion; the school will end up squandering money on [a] legal suit rather than children’s education,” Mike Ghouse, a Muslim and president of the Foundation for Pluralism in Dallas, said in an email.

The Rev. Daniel Kanter of First Unitarian Church of Dallas said in an email that “it could make people uncomfortable to have their graduations in a house of worship, and we shouldn’t be putting citizens in that situation.”

He added: “Unfortunately, some people of faith might also have prohibitions about attending events in a house of worship other than theirs.”.

But the Rev. Trey Graham, senior pastor of First Baptist Church Melissa, said in an email that he “applauds the school board” for considering the change. He said the district shouldn’t be deterred by possible legal action by the ACLU.

“The elimination of this restriction makes sense for the school district financially, logistically and relationally,” Graham said. “Financially, school districts can often save money by utilizing church facilities at lower cost than other large meeting places.”
Graham said that his church’s facilities are often used by school, civic and community groups that need meeting space. “We consider the use of our church’s space by outside groups as another way to positively impact our communities,” he said.
Staff writer Holly K. Hacker contributed to this report.

Faith leaders on DISD proposal

Several religious leaders from North Texas, including regular contributors to The Dallas Morning News’ Texas Faith blog, weighed in on a proposal to allow Dallas ISD schools to hold graduation ceremonies in religious facilities. Here are excerpts from their comments:

Ric Dexter, Northeast Texas area leader in SGI-USA, a Buddhist lay organization

“I can’t imagine any religious facility that would be willing to remove or cover over a symbol of their reason for being, simply not to offend some of the graduates. While most Christians would have no problem with a crucifix as a backdrop, I wonder if they would feel as comfortable with Shiva or Buddha overlooking this important moment in their children’s life.”

Trey Graham, senior pastor, First Baptist Church Melissa

“Our church’s facilities, on multiple campuses, are often used by school, civic and community groups who need meeting space at times that do not interfere with our regular church ministries. We consider the use of our church’s space by outside groups as another way to positively impact our communities. The threat of legal action by the ACLU should not deter school board personnel from making this sensible change.”

Katie Sherrod, Episcopal lay leader, Fort Worth

“I don’t know what freedom of religion and freedom from religion is worth, but way too many U.S. soldiers have died to defend those American values. However much money the district might save by using religious buildings doesn’t even come close to being worth sacrificing that. While Christian children and parents might be OK with sitting under an image of the crucified Christ, I doubt it would be comfortable for Jewish children and their parents, given how often the crucifixion has been used as an excuse to persecute Jews. And I’m trying to imagine how some Christians would feel about having their child’s graduation in a mosque.”

Mohamed Elibiary, spokesman, Islamic Asssociation of North Texas/Dallas Central Mosque

“We would advise DISD to slow down its consideration to change the current neutral graduation venue policy and instead launch a broad stakeholders’ feedback effort. It is a fact that some faith communities with larger percentages of new immigrant constituencies will view this policy change as biased towards certain denominations, such as megachurches, with the large facilities to lease to the school district in the first place. Public schools were partially established more than a century ago so that various segments of the American public can find that uniting neutral ground that reminds all that despite numerous differences, we are still all equal Americans, civically speaking.”

Mike Ghouse, a Muslim and president of the Foundation for Pluralism, Dallas

“It implies an association with that place of worship and carries the baggage in the long haul. What if the new pastor is a bigot and has a problem with gay or lesbian kids or kids of other faiths? It is always the individual that drives the society towards ill will or goodwill. Why do we need to subject ourselves to such whims?

“We are a pluralistic society and deeply want our kids to grow up and interact with the real world out there that comprises people of different faiths, races, ethnicities and sexual orientation. A religious building does not offer such an environment, even with a few exceptions.”

Holly K. Hacker

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