Complaint: Muskegon Community College’s graduation prayer violated law

Posted at 11:21 AM, Oct 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-19 16:27:29-04

MUSKEGON, Mich. (AP) — A group of civil rights activists filed a complaint against a public college in Michigan over a prayer that was said at graduation.

The Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists on Thursday sent Muskegon Community College a letter detailing the complaint, which was filed in response to a prayer said by the Rev. Ann Oakes, a trustee at the college, The Muskegon Chronicle reported . In Oakes’ prayer at the college’s May 9 graduation, she thanked God and asked him to bless the graduates.

“These things fly under the radar,” said Mitch Kahle of the association. “Unless you’re there, you don’t know. This is completely prohibited.”

The association’s letter cites two U.S. Supreme Court cases that ban religious invocations at public schools and college events, Lemon v. Kurtzman from 1971 and Lee v. Weisman from 1992.

College President Dale Nesbary said he was surprised by the complaint, since Oakes has been delivering the commencement invocation for many years.

“We haven’t had the issue raised in the past,” Nesbary said. “We’ll assess it and respond after we’ve had time to do our due diligence. We take this concern seriously.”

Oakes is a pastor at the Tabernacle Church of God in Muskegon County and has been on the school’s board of trustees since 1996. She’s also the Muskegon Township clerk.

The association has filed several complaints in recent years regarding the separation of church and state, including a complaint against Fremont schools for a Bible study class and one against Byron Center schools for a baccalaureate service.