A Michigan “civil rights” organization has spent the past few years removing any hint of religion from public spaces, most recently forcing a group of public-school football players to stop praying before games.
In October, the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists (MACRA) sent a complaint to Muskegon Community College after Rev. Ann Oakes, a trustee at the school, said a prayer during the college’s graduation ceremony.
College President Dale Nesbary said that Oakes has been leading an invocation before graduation for several years and has never “had the issue raised in the past,” according to The Muskegon Chronicle.
“These things fly under the radar,” MACRA’s Mitch Kahle said of the incident. “Unless you’re there, you don’t know. This is completely prohibited.”
As a result, the school agreed to make changes to its invocation, which will now be brief and “not entangle the college with religion.” Kahle and his organization told the local NBC affiliate that they don’t plan any further action so long as the invocation remains “very civic.”
According to USA Today, the organization previously stopped a high-school football team from praying for their coach’s sick daughter. The team was holding a “family circle” before each game to pray for the ailing child, but after they posted about it on social media, MACRA objected to its legality.
“We have no problem at all with a fundraising event for a family in need, we encourage it,” Kahle said. “What’s not appropriate is for the school to essentially organize a religious prayer service and then promote it.”
The Lake City football team eventually catered to MACRA’s demands, but some in the community were upset with the organization’s involvement.
“Nobody was forced. It was planned by students and parents it was just a great show of support for the family,” Lacie Henjal said. “It bothers me that someone that’s not from our community is trying to silence us.”
MACRA first caught the attention of local outlets in 2015 when it argued that Byron Center Public Schools could no longer hold a baccalaureate service because, according to Kahle, they are “church services and public schools are not allowed to be involved with religious services.”
Around that same time, MACRA successfully argued that a Michigan charter school could no longer host a prayer service on campus while exposing a Hudsonville-area school that had been releasing students for a Bible study.
“The staff of the public school system shall neither encourage nor discourage participation in any religious program,” Kahle said in 2015.
Kahle’s organization, founded in 2014, recently attempted to pressure the state into removing two historical markers dedicated to Fr. Marquette, both of which are crosses. MACRA has so far been unsuccessful in its efforts, but said the memorials are based on “Catholic myth.”
“Archaeologists and historians from the State of Michigan have consistently rejected claims for Marquette’s death and burial anywhere in the western and northern lower peninsula of Michigan,” he explained.
Since its inception, MACRA has been involved in several other cases across the state, including one in which a white cross was removed from a small town in Michigan, and others that have prevented schools from praying before commencement ceremonies.
On its website, the organization states that its mission is “to support and defend the Bill of Rights in an ongoing effort to end government discrimination wherever it is found.”
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