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USD 428 concedes violation of policy in graduation remarks
Freedom From Religion Foundation declares victory for separation of state and church
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Great Bend High School Principal Tim Friess comments at the Sunday, May 20 graduation ceremony were the focus of a complaint made by a representative from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. - photo by Tribune file photo

Counsel representing Great Bend USD 428 has responded to a complaint from Christopher Line, a Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, concerning comments made by Great Bend High School Principal Tim Friess at the graduation ceremony that took place on Sunday, May 20.

Line contacted the Great Bend Tribune and included images of both the complaint and the response. Both can be viewed in their entirety online.
At issue is a brief analogy that Friess has made at several graduation ceremonies over the years. The story describes the road to Success, and its many curbs and loops, and speed bumps along the way. It concludes with the advice, “But, if you have a spare tire called Faith and most importantly, a driver called Jesus, you will make it to a place called Success!”
Also at issue was his opening remarks, “...thank God for the beautiful day that He has blessed us with...” and his concluding remarks, “... may God bless each of you.”

Line cited the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,
“High school graduations and other school-sponsored events must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students,” the complaint stated.
The complaint noted that students, teachers and administrators are free to exercise their freedom of religion on their own time, but public school principals may not promote religion during school-sponsored events.
“This is a violation of students’ right of conscience and of the trust that parents have placed in the District to educate their children without encroaching on their right to raise their family in whatever religion they choose, or no religion.”

According to Attorney Mark A. Rondeau, Watkins Calcara, Chtd., he alerted Superintendent Khris Thexton about the complaint via phone, right as Thexton was leaving on vacation. They met to discuss the matter further on June 6, and after reviewing the district’s policies, of which there are several in place intended to prohibit and avoid any constitutionally prohibited speech or conduct regarding religion.
Thexton spoke with Friess following the complaint, and the principal agreed that his comments were not in accordance with district policies and that they would not happen again.

To view PDF of letters, click here.
“We consider this a good response and a victory for the separation of state and church,” Line stated. “Therefore, we will close the file for this particular complaint.”