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Paul Rolly: The good, bad and ugly of religion in schools

Published July 9, 2013 9:41 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

After she read my column Monday about the Bountiful High graduates whose LDS Church mission calls were announced at commencement, a mother attending Viewmont's graduation had her own story to tell.

Davis School Board member Larry Smith spoke to the Viewmont graduates and recognized the missions where the graduates had been called, naming the country or state.

The woman, who described herself as a church-going Mormon with an active temple recommend, also noticed that the 10 people lined up onstage to hand out diplomas were all white males, giving her the impression she had just been time-machined back to the 1950s.

Selective censorship • While it seemed OK to read the mission calls of students at Bountiful's graduation this year, the school had earlier stopped the practice of Polynesian students wearing leis on stage to celebrate their heritage when receiving diplomas.

The reasoning was that the administration didn't want some students to be given special recognition over the others.

A personal account • I'm reminded of the time about 20 years ago when my oldest son was graduating from Skyline High School.

I received the LDS ward newsletter that noted: "Eight of the nine Skyline graduates in the ward also are graduating from seminary."

I was compelled to write to the editor of the newsletter pointing out that one of the nine had earned a four-year scholarship at the University of Utah; one of the nine was a Sterling Scholar finalist; one of the nine was a state debate champion who had won several awards at national and regional debate tournaments; and one of the nine was the author, producer and director of the only student-produced play to be performed at Skyline up to that point.

A better way • A reader in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, with a small Mormon population, told me that at the high school graduation, it was announced what every grad planned to do, whether attend a certain college, enter the military, start a job or go on an LDS mission. He said everyone was thrilled and nobody was offended.

Runs both ways • While non-Mormon students often feel left out when the predominant faith is overtly present in school, Mormon kids in other states have been victims of the same problem.

One Mormon reader told me that when he was growing up in an area of Nebraska that was predominantly Baptist, he was told by his classmates every day that he was going to hell.

And the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the Santa Fe Independent School District in rural Texas violated the Constitution by allowing student-led prayers before high school football games. The plaintiffs in the case were Mormons who objected to the fundamentalist Christian prayers. It was brought out in the documents that the Mormons who complained about the Christian prayers received threats of physical harm.

Impeccable timing? • Scores of spectators gathered with their families at South Salt Lake's Robert L. Fitts Park July 3 to watch the annual fireworks display from nearby Granite High School.

Many got there early to secure good seats on the grass to watch the spectacle, and anticipation built as it got dark.

But about five minutes before the show began, the automatic sprinklers in the park went on, scattering the crowd and dampening the fun.