May 2014 Church & State | People & Events

Americans United has asked a publicly funded Ohio charter school not to hold its graduation ceremony in a church run by a fiercely anti-gay pastor.

Ohio Virtual Academy in Toledo plans to hold its graduation June 7 at World Harvest Church (WHC), even though the church displays a giant cross hanging from its ceiling and is staunchly against gay rights.

As the letter noted, WHC is run by the Rev. Rod Parsley. Parsley is an aspiring Religious Right leader who has made a number of homophobic statements in his writings and speeches, including repeating long-discredited, hateful notions about LGBT people.

In his 2005 book Silent No More, Parsley asserted that gays engage in activities such as “bestiality… orgies, large numbers of sexual partners, deliberate infection of others, cheating in marriage, obscene phone calls, criminality, shoplifting, and tax cheating.”

Americans United said that holding a school ceremony in such an environment “is, at best, unwelcoming and, at worst, traumatizing” for LGBT students. AU also noted that most of the schools’ future graduates would prefer the ceremony be held in a local secular venue.

Officials at the school have vowed not to change the venue. Kyle Wilkinson, the school’s principal, told the Toledo Blade that it is “common for public schools to use faith-based facilities for their graduations.”

In related news involving religion in public schools: 

• An elementary school student in Florida says she was told not to pray by staff at her school, but the school is denying that claim. Fox News contributor Todd Starnes reported that 5-year-old Gabriella Perez was allegedly told by her teacher that she could not pray over her lunch. As a result, Gabriella’s family wants to home-school her.

But officials at the school said there is no evidence such an incident occurred. Michael Lawrence, a communications officer for the Seminole County School District, told reporters: “The situation as stated by the parent has not occurred, according to the school’s investigation. If a student wishes to pray at lunch to herself we do not have a policy against that.”

In addition, school staff members said they had no recollection of interacting with the girl in the cafeteria that day, reported WKMG-TV in Orlando.

Starnes may have ignored such important details because Gabriella’s father, Marcos Perez, is the vice president of sales at Charisma House, which is contracted to publish Starnes’ next book, God Less America

• The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee is defending a student who said he was told not to read the Bible during an after-school program. The ACLU contacted Cannon County REACH, which runs the program, in response to a claim that a student was told he could read any book except the Bible. The student reported that when he refused to put his Bible away, it was taken from him.

Officials at the program say the matter is a misunderstanding.