Post 311 is taking a stand... if prayer by their chaplain is not allowed, they won't be participating in the annual evening Veteran's Day ceremony held at the Wallenpaupack Area High School gym, November 11th.
According to Post officials, their controversy is not with the School District but with the Supreme Court rulings that has led to the current condition in the country where their own chaplain cannot say a prayer at a school-led function. They had not asked for a prayer in past years.
William Kemmett, commander of the Hawley Wilson-Kelch Post 311 American Legion, along with Executive Board member Pat Thompson, attended a meeting at the Wallenpaupack North Intermediate School Oct. 16 to discuss plans for the annual program, which is sponsored by the Fourth Grade and run by the school. Post 311 traditionally participates in the program, leading the Posting of Colors and the Wreath Ceremony. Other parts of the program includes student essay winners, patriotic songs by the entire fourth grade and a guest speaker. The program is still being scheduled.
It was at that meeting that they learned that a prayer said by the Post Chaplain would not be allowed due to the program being hosted by the School District.
Thompson said that the Post did not have or request a prayer from the chaplain at the school ceremony in past years, but it also wasn't made an issue then. When the news came out that the school graduation prayers made by clergy would no longer be allowed, the Post officials wanted to know if the same would apply to their chaplain at the ceremony.
After going over the program schedule at the meeting, the Post officials were asked if they had any questions. Thompson said they asked if they could have their chaplain say a prayer.
"It was like a bomb dropped," the Veteran said.
Thompson emphasized that they do not fault the staff or administrators at Wallenpaupack Area School District, realizing they had to make this policy due to the laws in this country. He said the school officials were understanding of the Post's position, and everyone left on good terms.
"We didn't want to do it," Thompson said, "but this country is falling apart. If the Veterans don't take a stand, who will?"
In a letter to the editor published in this edition, Thompson writes, in part,
"The political correctness in this country is out of control. It seems to me every religion has rights in this country except Christians. This is a Judea-Christian country who happens to respect all religions. Getting to my point, Veterans are the people who are about one percent of the US population who make it possible for the 99 percent of Americans to have the freedoms they take for granted...
Page 2 of 4 - "I was disgusted when prayer was removed from the graduation exercise. We asked at the meeting if our Chaplain could say a prayer at the ceremony. We open our American Legion meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance, a prayer and reciting our Preamble which starts out with For God and Country. With all due respect to the staff at our meeting they could not allow it due to mandates from superiors.
"This letter has no reflection on them, they were just following policy. We stated to them that under the circumstances Post 311 could not participate in the ceremony. Veterans Day is our day and all we wanted was for our Chaplain to say a prayer. There are no atheists in foxholes. Saying a prayer does not establish a religion."
Thompson stated that he and Commander Kemmett take full responsibility for their decision made on behalf of Post 311. While he expected some of their members might not agree, which is their right, he said the members they had spoken to were understanding. Both Thompson and Kemmett are Vietnam War Veterans.
Asked about what the school children would think, Thompson stated it was their hope they would understand their position, but it is up to how adults present it to them. He said that Post 311 traditionally makes a donation, as well as the Sons of the American Legion, for prizes for the student essays read at the Veteran's Day Program. Thompson said he contacted the principal later, offering that the Post would still like to make the donation. "The kids aren't to blame" he said.
Thompson added, "If they [the School] wants us, we're a package deal, and our chaplain is a part of it."
District Superintendent Michael Silsby said that he would be contacting Post 311 to see if they could work out the issue. Principal Amanda Cykosky was not available to be asked for comment.
••• Different than Baccalaureate
The change took place this past August, when Superintendent Michael Silsby reported to the School Board that following a complaint and subsequent research of case law, prayers by clergy at the commencement exercises would no longer be allowed.
Following that decision, Silsby and others representing the School District have made clear that Baccalaureate services, held at the High School auditorium, could continue without violation of the Constitution, as long as some group besides the School District, such as the local clergy association, hosts it.
The big difference in the case of the Veteran's Day Program at Wallenpaupack is that it is hosted by the Fourth Grade (Wallenpaupack North Intermediate School).
A complaint was filed with the Freedom From Religion Foundation by a parent of a graduating senior following last June's commencement. An attorney from this organization promptly wrote to the District citing US Supreme Court rulings on the subject and asking the Superintendent for what steps would be taken to cease the practice.
Page 3 of 4 - The Wallenpaupack Administration, acting on the side of safety and to avoid potential, costly litigation, at the same time stopped the practice of opening school board meetings with a prayer and instead open with a "moment of silence."
This outcome affecting school graduation prayers sparked outrage by numerous local citizens, with nearly 60 attending the September school board meeting. Why the District did what they felt they had to do was outlined to the audience, several of whom shared their misgivings with the court interpretations and outcome.
The full letter to the Editor follows:
No prayer, no Post 311 at Veteran's Ceremony
Oct. 16, 2013, to The News Eagle
To the Editor:
My American Legion Post 311 Commander William Kemmett and my self went to the Wallenpaupack School to participate in the Veterans Day program scheduled for the evening ceremony at the High School. Every thing went extremely well.
The staff as always had a wonderful program lined up. With all the issues facing America today and watching our country deteriorate in front of us we brought along a request with us. The political correctness in this country is out of control. It seems to me every religion has rights in this country except Christians. This is a Judea-Christian country who happens to respect all religions. Getting to my point, Veterans are the people who are about one percent of the US population who make it possible for the 99 percent of Americans to have the freedoms they take for granted.
The Supreme Court did make a ruling on prayer in school but have the Ten Commandments hanging in their chambers. Congress opens their sessions with a prayer. The glue that held this country together for a couple hundred years consisted of morals, virtue and God in your life. Look around, it is obvious when a small group of people get their way and take morals, virtue and God away you see what the result is.
I was disgusted when prayer was removed from the graduation exercise. We asked at the meeting if our Chaplain could say a prayer at the ceremony. We open our American Legion meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance, a prayer and reciting our Preamble which starts out with For God and Country. With all due respect to the staff at our meeting they could not allow it due to mandates from superiors.
This letter has no reflection on them, they were just following policy. We stated to them that under the circumstances Post 311 could not participate in the ceremony. Veterans Day is our day and all we wanted was for our Chaplain to say a prayer. There are no atheists in foxholes. Saying a prayer does not establish a religion.
I will close with the First Amendment. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise there of or abridging the freedom of speech or the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievance. The ceremony will go on and I wish the best. Too bad our Creator is not welcome.
Page 4 of 4 - For God and Country