The ACLU of Texas is looking into complaints from at least one faculty member about the Lone Star College System's decision to hold graduation ceremonies this weekend in two churches.
They say they have been contacted by an LSCS faculty member, and quoted him as saying:
I grew up going to church. To me churches are sacred places for worship. They are not public forums appropriate for government activities like a public school graduation. For a college that purports to value diversity, choosing a religious location for graduation when there are abundant alternative venues is inexplicable.
"Given the concerns the college faculty has raised, and the fact that other venue choices are clearly available to LSCS, it is hard to understand why LSCS is insisting on holding its commencement exercises in a church," said Lisa Graybill, of ACLU of Texas. "LSCS' actions could amount to imposing a religious viewpoint on faculty and students, which would be a violation of religious freedom protections guaranteed in the Bill of Rights."
Graduation ceremonies for the Montgomery and Tomball campuses of LSCS will be at The Woodlands Church Fellowship Campus this weekend.
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In past years, the ACLU says, the Tomball graduations were held at the Berry Center and later at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott. The organization has made a public-records request seeking info on how this year's site was chosen.
We've got a message in to LSCS; we'll update with their reaction when we get it.
Update: LSCS has issued a statement.
Lone Star College System has rented venues for its various graduations based on rental cost, availability on the days and times needed, ability to accommodate the number of attendees expected and convenience of the location for our students and their families. In reality, there are not a lot of affordable, available, conveniently located auditoriums that are large enough to meet LSCS needs for graduation events.
The LSCS graduation ceremonies do not include any religious content - the participants and guests are attending a graduation ceremony. LSC-Tomball is expecting 2,500 attendees for its commencement ceremony and LSC-Montgomery anticipates 3,000 attendees. Many church facilities, which are available for rent to any organization for non-religious events, generally include the largest auditoriums available in the community.
An important consideration is cost. In the interest of being financially prudent and responsible during this time of financial distress for the state of Texas, LSC-Tomball was able to save $15,000 for its graduation event this year by renting The Woodlands Church Fellowship Campus facility instead of The Woodlands Waterway Marriott facility. LSC-Montgomery had outgrown the space at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott and is also renting The Woodlands Church Fellowship Campus facility at a considerable savings.