In Neptune Township, NJ, education trumped faith with assists from the A.C.L.U. and some local Methodists. I’m sure the Wesley Brothers would be so proud that the Great Auditorium, owned and operated by the Methodist-affiliated Camp Meeting Association, can host the traditional graduation ceremony for the local public high school in this New Jersey town. They might not be as proud that these Methodists agreed to cover a cross and other religious banners inside this 6,500 seat facility to accommodate a government school’s graduation.
Of course, the kerfuffle all started when the grandmother of one of last year’s graduating seniors took offense at certain aspects of her granddaughter’s public high school graduation ceremony, held at the Great Auditorium:
The conflict began after the grandmother of one of last year’s graduates complained not only about the large white cross adorning the top of the buildings’ facade, but of the religious signs inside, and what she felt was a heavily religious tone to the ceremony, which included student-led invocations and the singing of Christian hymns, most notably “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
Now, before some Christians get mad at the “expulsion” of God from the Neptune Township School District, let me ask you whether or not you would be comfortable attending the graduation ceremony for you son or daughter if it was held, not at a local Christian venue, but at the local Mosque? If you were the parent of a Christian senior in Dearborn, Michigan and the local Mosque had traditionally hosted the graduation ceremony for the local public high school that your son or daughter was graduating from, would you have any objections to Muslim religious signs inside the Mosque or a “heavily religious tone” that happened to be Muslim or Muslim students leading in prayer or in singing Islamic-themed songs equivalent to Onward Christian Soldiers?
While I would have no problem with a public high school graduation ceremony held in a public, non-religious venue, I personally would feel uncomfortable attending a graduation ceremony for my child in a religious setting if it was non-Christian (i.e., a Mosque or Mormon Temple). I don’t think it was unreasonable for this grandmother to take offense at the religious imagery both inside and outside the Great Auditorium. I do not blame her for expressing her concerns. Of course, once the A.C.L.U. got involved, you just knew that faith — that is, the Christian faith — was going to experience a setback.
While the school agreed to revise their graduation ceremony so as to leave out the student-led prayers and hymns, the Neptune Township School District was not responsible for covering the cross. As much as I would like to blame the A.C.L.U. for covering the cross and other banners — “Holiness to the Lord” and “So Be Ye Holy” — they likewise are not to blame. (There is plenty to blame them for in other cases.)
In this particular case, neither the school board nor the A.C.L.U. forced the Methodists to cover the cross and religious banners. If not them, then who?
The association agreed to cover the cross on the inside, but not the cross on the outside or the antique lighted religious signs.
The Camp Meeting Association, the owners of the property and the only ones who could have agreed to cover the cross, were themselves the ones who decided the cross should be covered. Faced with the end of a 70-year tradition or covering the cross, they chose tradition and a covered cross. Some might say that this is a small price to pay for hosting a public high school graduation ceremony. Perhaps. Some might argue covering the inside cross and religious banners while keeping the outside cross and lighted antique signs uncovered is not that big a deal. Maybe those folks are right.
But, when churches and religious organizations begin to make concessions so that the government can be accommodated, then faith (and eventually practice) will be eroded, little by little. Would it have been hard for the Camp Meeting Association to have stood their ground and refuse to cover the cross and religious banners inside the Great Auditorium? Yes. Would the A.C.L.U. have continued their assault on the Neptune Township School District for their use of a Christian venue for graduation? Without question.
Instead, a great compromise was reached. Neptune Schools Superintendent David Mooij said:
he’s glad there is a resolution everyone seems able to live with. We’re very pleased. We’ve worked from the beginning to collaborate on a solution.
Obviously, the School District and the A.C.L.U. will be able to live with the resolution. The question is, “Will the local Methodists be able to live with it?” As a result of this case, Superintendent Mooij said that the “kids learned and even faculty learned from this.” What did they learn? That tradition and education trump faith. Score it an assist for the Methodist team!