Controversy rages over religious freedom in public schools in America's fastest-growing city

There is a simmering clash over religious freedom in public schools in one of America's fastest-growing city, and at the center of the issue are the students of the McKinney Independent School District in Texas.

The public school district in McKinney in Texas will no longer hold its graduation rites in a known church. | REUTERS/Matthias Schumann

Megachurch Prestonwood Baptist pastor Jack Graham expressed that recent events in the school district could qualify as an attack on religious freedom. It all started when one Christian church member refused to remove a crucifix while employees at the public school held a meeting at the church.

Following this, McKinney ISD decided to end its decade-long practice of holding commencement rites at the same Baptist church. Allegedly, some concerned parents of the over 24,000 student community voiced out that the venue was no longer appropriate. Graham, however, believed that the school officials "yielded to the pressure" from non-Christian groups.

Last year, McKinney ISD received complaints after a video showing Superintendent Rick McDaniels praying with employees made its rounds. McDaniels could be heard in the video saying that he knew that his colleagues might be uncomfortable about prayer, so he asked them to observe a moment of silence.

The activist group Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a letter to McKinney school officials to remind them about the separation of church and state. As it is in the Constitution, public schools can never endorse a religion.

That controversy has once again surfaced amid the school district's decision to change venues for its graduation.

Cody Cunningham, the spokesperson for the school district, said in a statement there were plenty of reasons leading to the decision to move to the Allen Event Center. He also reminded the public that graduation was not about religious debates but was a time to honor the achievements of the students.

A father of one of the graduates, however, said that there did seem to be an attack on religious freedom in McKinney. He also said that although he was not comfortable holding his child's graduation rites in a secular place, he would not be debating with other parents about it. These recent events have also pushed some students to keep their identities or ideologies to themselves for fear of being bullied.

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