By Simon Brown
When Southwest Dekalb High School (Decatur, Ga.) holds its graduation next month, one of the school’s top students won’t attend because the ceremony is being held in a church.
Nahkoura Mahnassi, 16, has a 3.8 GPA and is in the top 10 percent of her class. Apparently her smarts go well beyond books, because she feels strongly that her commencement should be held at a neutral site, like the Georgia Dome, rather than a Christian church.
Why? Because not all graduating students are Christian, she told WSBTV, the ABC affiliate in Atlanta.
Mahnassi and her mother, Alisha Brown, told the station that they don’t have a religious affiliation and that’s a big reason why Mahnassi doesn’t feel comfortable accepting her diploma in a sectarian setting.
"A church is a place you go to worship your God,” Brown told WSBTV. “I'm not a Christian. Church and state should be separated.”
Brown called her daughter’s school to get more information about the graduation site and was told: “Well, it’s just a building.”
Said Brown, “Of course I posed the question: if it was a Satanist church I'm sure the Christians would be up in arms and say, ‘No, no, no. We're not going to go there.’ So it's not a matter of ‘It's just a building.’ That's totally not true."
Brown is absolutely right. If a school scheduled its graduation in a Satanist church, or even a mosque or synagogue, many parents and students would immediately cry foul. They wouldn’t feel that those places are “just a building.”
The other problem here is that the selected venue isn’t just any old church. The graduation is going to be held in New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, which is home to a pastor who, in the kindest of terms, is controversial.
Pastor Eddie Long was accused by four male members of his church of sexual misconduct. He settled that case out of court in 2011. In February, he managed to offend the Jewish community when he wrapped himself in a Torah scroll, was declared a king and carried on a throne. (All Torah scrolls are sacred, to the point that they can never touch the ground.)
It’s sad that some public schools, which are supposed to accommodate everyone (not to mention the constitutional requirement to keep church and state separate), continue to act like they don’t care about making their students feel welcome at all school events. Then, when a parent complains, they flippantly disregard those concerns by saying a church is “just a building.”
As for Mahnassi, she’s clearly wise beyond her years.
"People don't all have the same views and that having it at one place where the major views are Christian, it's completely different for some people," she told WSBTV.
Mahnassi may have a future as a teacher, because the administrators who are supposed to ensure that she is well educated could learn a lot from her.