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Posts Tagged ‘NHS graduation will occur in the GA’

Prior NHS graduation in the GA. neptunematters.com

By Charles Layton

Neptune school board president John Daniels announced Wednesday night that the board and the American Civil Liberties Union have reached agreement.

This means the district’s senior class will graduate in the Ocean Grove Great Auditorium on June 17, as previous classes have done for at least the past seven decades.

Daniels made the announcement at the start of a Board of Education meeting at Summerfield School. The ACLU, he said, “has accepted the compromise that we have made… This case is closed, ladies and gentlemen. We won’t be talking about this any more.”

Graduation plans had been thrown into turmoil in recent weeks over the ACLU’s threat to bring suit over the inclusion of religious rites and symbols in past graduation ceremonies and over the use of the Great Auditorium — a house of worship — by a public school. The ACLU was acting in behalf of a grandmother of some students.

The deal that was reached on Wednesday gave the ACLU and its client nearly everything they had been seeking. According to ACLU attorney Jeffrey Pollock, he and his co-counsel, Seval Yildirim, received a compromise proposal recently that contained the following provisions:

  • The board would agree that this and future graduation ceremonies would be free of religious content, i.e., prayers and Christian hymns.
  • The Great Auditorium could be used for graduations if the two large religious signs on either side of the stage were covered during the ceremony, the large cross outside the building remained unlit, and the choir door to the left of the main entrance near the gazebo was also covered.

The ACLU had earlier asked that the cross on the front of the building be covered, but the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, which owns the building, refused to do that. Having the cross unlit instead of covered turned out to solve that problem.

Pollock said that he and Yildirim took the board’s offer to their client on Tuesday, the client agreed to the terms, and on Wednesday they notified the board’s attorney.

Pollock said in an interview that if the board accepted those terms, “I think this matter may be quickly and easily resolved.”

Daniels said, in addressing the audience at Wednesday night’s meeting, that the board had not “folded” during negotiations. But, he said, “times have changed,” apparently referring to court rulings involving the separation of religion and government. He spoke very briefly and did not mention the terms of the agreement.

Pollock said, quoting an old saying about negotiations, “To me the sign of a good offer is that both parties are unhappy.”

One of the last sticking points, apparently, was the ACLU’s demand that the two electronic signs on either side of the stage be covered. Some said there were concerns that this could not be done without risking damage to those signs. These are the signs that say, on one side, “Holiness to the Lord” and on the other side “So be ye holy.”

In recent days the dispute had begun attracting national attention. Fox News had featured interviews and reports about the issue, and two legal groups associated with fundamentalist Christian organizations had offered to defend the school district free of charge if the ACLU followed through with its threat to bring suit.

The grandmother first raised the church-and-state issue last summer at a school board meeting. Shortly thereafter, the ACLU began negotiating in her behalf. Although the school board rather quickly agreed to eliminate religious references from the graduation ceremony, the question of religious signs in and about the Great Auditorium remained a sticking point until the very end.

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