A group of local pastors says Wake County families shouldn’t be forced to choose between their faith and attending Sunday morning high school graduation ceremonies.
The Raleigh Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance calls Sunday morning graduations “disrespectful and also insensitive to all the Wake County citizens who worship on Sunday mornings.” The group of predominantly African-American ministers has asked the Wake school system to stop scheduling graduations before 1 p.m. on Sundays.
“Slowly, secular institutions and businesses have encroached upon Sunday morning worship for financial gain, convenience and for other reasons,” the Rev. William Newkirk said on behalf of the alliance at Tuesday’s school board meeting. “We don’t think public schools should join those ranks.”
North Carolina’s largest school system isn’t the only group being targeted by the ministers. The Rev. David Forbes, president of the alliance, said in an interview Wednesday that the ministers also plan to ask businesses to not open on Sunday mornings and civic groups to stop scheduling Sunday morning activities.
Many communities used to have “blue laws” prohibiting commercial activities on Sundays, but most of the laws were phased out by the end of the 20th century.
“We will definitely discuss it as a board to go back to staff to see what options exist to move it in the future,” she said.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, called it an “inherently selfish and unreasonable request” to avoid scheduling graduations on Sunday mornings. She said it would be promoting religion if the school board accommodated the pastors.
“The idea that a family couldn’t miss church one day out of the year is preposterous,” Gaylor said. “They could skip church for this one important event.”
A complaint from Gaylor’s group resulted in Wake barring several school choirs from performing at last year’s Apex Christmas Nativity Celebration.
The Wake school system has 29 graduation ceremonies scheduled over the next month, starting Friday and running to June 14.
Graduations are scheduled based on a variety of factors, including school calendars, state testing windows, availability and cost of facilities, and the size of school graduation classes, according to Cathy Moore, deputy superintendent for academic advancement. She said Wake is paying about $117,000 in facility rental costs this year for graduations.
Moore said Sunday graduation ceremonies have been held on and off for several years. Four Sunday ceremonies are scheduled this year on June 11, including two before 1 p.m.