Minnesota teen earns $2,000 FFRF activist award
A Minnesota high school student has earned a $2,000 activist award from FFRF for his efforts to get his high school to move its graduation ceremony from a local church, where it has been held for more than a decade, to a secular venue.
Eli Frost, who attends Chaska High School, led the charge to get more than 600 signatures on a petition asking the school district to respect the separation of state and church by moving future graduation ceremonies from Grace Church in Eden Prairie.
For his efforts, Eli has earned the Freedom From Religion Foundation Student Activist Award of $2,000, endowed for many years by a generous West Coast couple who are FFRF members.
In backing up the petition, FFRF has requested in writing that the Eastern Carver County Schools district cease holding graduation ceremonies at the church.
“While the district states that Grace Church is able to meet the district’s needs for the graduation ceremonies, there appear to be secular options available that other districts have contracted with, including the Minneapolis Convention Center,” FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence writes. “Additionally, it apparently costs the district close to $28,000 to host the graduation ceremonies at Grace Church, which suggests that the location is not being used for financial reasons and the district can likely afford to explore secular venues.”
High school graduations are viewed as special, once-in-a-lifetime moments for graduating students and their families, FFRF contends. Students should not be expected to choose between being forced to graduate in a church or to forgo this momentous occasion. This is especially true in light of the fact that nearly half of Generation Z is nonreligious and about two in 10 non-Christians are members of the LGBTQ community, including 19 percent of the religiously unaffiliated.
Here is what Eli Frost had to say:
By Eli Frost
First, I’d like to say that I am honored to have received this award from The Freedom From Religion Foundation. It is really amazing to be recognized for my work even though I was just trying to make my school community better for everyone.
I first realized graduation was held at Grace Church, a megachurch, about a year ago. I was confused and annoyed that the school district would choose to host graduation at any church since it felt like a clear violation of the separation of church and state. I was also dismayed that the church was being paid a large sum of money to host this event. My annoyance changed to anger when I found out about the views Grace Church holds. As my petition states: “Grace Church has a long history of making derogatory, public statements against the LGBTQ+ community. Further, they do not support divorce even in situations of domestic violence.”
My school district claims to be against discrimination of LGBTQ+ people. Its anti-discrimination policy states: “It is the policy of Eastern Carver County Schools to provide students and employees with an environment for learning and working that is free from discrimination, harassment or violence on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, creed, religion, culture, national origin, citizenship status, economic status, veteran’s status, academic status, marital status, disability, family structure, sex, sexual or affectional orientation, gender identity or expression, etc.”
Hosting graduation at a church that preaches against the identities of members of our school community feels like a violation of the district’s own policy. I personally believe we should be welcoming and accepting of all, especially marginalized groups like the LGBTQ+ community. We must change the venue to show that we care about the struggles these groups go through.
I have seen support from many in my community and my schoolmates over this venue fight. That has been very heartening to see. However, the school district has not yet publicly shown any support for actually moving the venue. I am wondering if they are waiting for the issue to blow over and I don’t want that to happen.