A Texas school district has decided to stop holding graduation ceremonies at a local megachurch due to complaints over alleged church and state issues.
McKinney Independent School District had held its graduation ceremonies at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, every year since 2004.
However, last week it was announced that the high school graduation ceremonies were being moved to the Allen Event Center.
“The decision on the site comes after several community members expressed concern about the presence of religion at some schools and district events,” The Dallas Morning News reported Tuesday.
“And it follows just a few weeks after district officials had said that moving the graduation away from Prestonwood couldn’t be done this year because the plans for the event are made at least a year in advance.”
A spokesperson for Prestonwood Baptist Church directed The Christian Post on Wednesday to a statement from Pastor Jack Graham, head of the 43,000-strong congregation, in which he expressed disappointment in the decision but resolve in not censoring the cross.
“We know this decision is not a reflection on the good people of our community because it was substantially influenced by a small outside group determined to change our values in Texas by silencing free speech and restricting religious freedom,” Graham said.
“We meet their bullying by reiterating our love and openness to our community and especially those in the McKinney School District community — many of whom attend our services by the hundreds, every weekend.”
In a message on Twitter, Graham added: “It appears religious freedom is under attack at the McKinney Public Schools. It was our refusal to remove the cross from view that created this cowardly decision.”
McKinney ISD’s practice of holding high school graduations at Prestonwood had garnered the attention of the Wisconsin-based atheist group, Freedom From Religion Foundation.
In May 2016, the FFRF sent a letter of complaint against the school district for both holding the graduation ceremonies at Prestonwood Baptist Church and for other religious symbols on school property.
Later that month, McKinney Superintendent Rick McDaniel wrote back to the FFRF assuring them that religious symbols would be removed or covered and that the school district would look for another location to hold graduations.
Last August, the school district again came under fire when McDaniel prayed at a staff convocation held at Prestonwood Baptist Church.
McDaniel’s prayer garnered local objections and a demand from the FFRF that he be punished, as well as renewed calls for the graduation ceremonies to be moved to a different venue.
McKinney ISD spokesperson Cody Cunningham told The Dallas Morning News that the decision had to do with a desire to move away from the church-state debate and focus attention on the graduating students.
“Our goal as a district is to make certain that 100 percent of the focus is on the students, and the event is about honoring our graduates,” Cunningham said.
“This is really not about a disagreement between the district and the Freedom From Religion group or anything like that. … It was a decision made to keep the focus on our kids.”