Jackson College receives complaint about prayer at graduation

Published: Oct. 22, 2018 at 6:13 PM EDT
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Should prayer be allowed at a publicly-funded college commencement?

A civil rights group wants Jackson College to change its graduation ceremony after a speaker led a Christian prayer last May.

The group got the complaint from someone who attended the ceremony. That person doesn't want to file a lawsuit but does want the college to stop putting people in the same situation.

"Most schools know and understand that there has been a Supreme Court decision, Lee vs. Weisman, that prohibits clergy-led or government-led prayer at public schools. It isn't a matter of what we believe. It's a matter of what the Constitution says," co-founder of the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists Mitch Kahle said.

According to its website, the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists "supports and defends" the Bill of Rights. Kahle says they've gotten complaints like this in the past.

"There's very little that makes a person more uncomfortable than to be subjected to a prayer that is from someone else's religion," he said.

Students on campus were split about the issue.

"College has a wide variety of people and different types of religion from all different places in the world. So saying a prayer kind of points out a specific group of people, it's not the time," Johnnie Carpenter Jr. said.

Others disagreed.

"I don't think it's forcing religion. People can walk away and say, 'well you know, it's not me,'" Angel Stalmaker said.

The civil rights group hopes the college will make the change without having to go to court.

"The people running the school there should understand the law and they should want to enforce it fairly. We believe Jackson Community College will do the right thing," Kahle said.

The school released a statement saying it received the complaint and is in the process of responding to it.

The Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists was in the news earlier this year when it worked to get a cross removed from public land.

The cross stood on Sackrider Hill at the Waterloo Recreation Area in Jackson County for 68 years before the complaint was filed with the DNR. The state agreed it was a First Amendment violation and took it down.

The cross was given to the Crusade for Christ Ministries in Grass Lake Township.