In Loving Memory of one of My Heroes
Jennifer Diane Musgrove
May 14, 1987 - September 20, 2010
Musgrove vs. The Brevard County
The following is an accounting of the
events that took place regarding the lawsuit I participated in.
[Italicized snarking was done in 2014]
I received word that on November 15,
2005 the settlement was entered by the court. [I guess by that I
meant...it's a wrap. Done deal. Over. Sayonara school
In the Spring of 2004, my oldest son was in 8th grade. In the
process of pre-registration for his first year in high school, I was
invited to join the Palm Bay High School parent email network. This
is an announcement list, not a discussion group. Only official
announcements can be posted by the host of the group--the technology
coordinator at PBHS.
On May 6, 2004, an announcement was posted to the list under
the subject: Live Internet Broadcast of Palm Bay High's Graduation!
The post read:
For those of you who have family members who would like to see Palm
Bay High's graduation ceremony at Calvary Chapel, but can't be there
in person, there is another option. As the camera starts rolling
next Saturday, May 15, at approximately 9 am, you can click on the
live broadcast on the link below.
This is new technology, but it may be worth the effort if you can
I was a bit stunned. The excitement
generated by this wonderful technology was clear. The thought that
it might not be a good idea to put public school students in a
church for the first major turning-point ceremony of their lives
didn't seem to exist. I questioned the obvious in my reply:
"Excuse me...are you saying that Palm
Bay High School, a public school, is holding its graduation ceremony
in a church?"
I paused a moment or two before I clicked
on send. I wondered if this was something I really wanted to do. Did
I want to start trouble before my son even entered the school? Would
my activism affect him at school? Could I live with going to Calvary
Chapel for graduation ceremonies? That was not something I wanted to
do. After visiting the church's website and viewing the picture of
the sanctuary with what looked like a huge gold cross towering over
the room, I decided the school staff had lost its cumulative mind
and hit send.
I received a reply from the school
secretary, Judy Kidd, who was kind enough to explain:
The reasons for graduating at Calvary Chapel of Melbourne:
1. Half the cost at FIT (Last years [sic] graduation)"
Ah, so not only were they using a church,
they were paying them for the privilege.
"2. Stadium presents two problems [sic]
(a) sound and (b) weather to worry about"
We pride ourselves on our "open-air" schools in Florida where the
kids walk outside to change classes and can sit outside during lunch
in many schools. We've graduated students outdoors for years [I
certainly did it]; you would think we would have perfected the
"rain date" system by now. But why bother with good planning when we
can take advantage of the mega-church in town?
As to the sound system--it's good enough for football games and good
enough for PBHS to host the district-wide marching band festival for
at least the past two years [turns out they do it every year],
so it should be good enough for graduation.
Note that Ms. Kidd doesn't mention any problems with the size
of the stadium.
"3. Eau Gallie and Bay Side [sic] are also
using this facility
4. Merritt Island has used First Baptist of Merritt Island for
So, it's okay to do something bad if other
people are doing it?
I responded to Ms. Kidd asking for more
information and voicing my concerns, but she didn't write back. [How
rude!] Of course, I don't believe for a minute that these were
really "reasons" for PBHS to choose Calvary Chapel for graduation;
these were just rationalizations made up after the fact.
On May 10, 2004 I sent an
email to Pastor Balmer of Calvary Chapel. He didn't write me back
either. He'd dealt with me before. I guess he didn't want to do
It was in December of 2003 that I read an article in Florida
Today about teachers managing to separate their religious
beliefs from their teaching duties in public schools. One of the (or
the only) teachers featured attended Calvary Chapel. She said she
understood that not all the children and their parents believed what
she did, and she was careful not to say anything that would infringe
on their religious freedoms. She seemed to understand her role as an
authority figure and representative of the government in the
I wrote to Pastor Balmer through the Calvary Chapel website and told
him how impressed I was with this teacher. I said that if that was
the kind of tolerance he was preaching at his church, I applauded
him. His response was a sermon
telling me I could never be satisfied or have meaning without god in
my life, and an invitation to a showing of a Lee Strobel film at,
where else, his church. No thanks, I said. I've read Strobel's books
and was not at all impressed with his so-called "investigative"
I suppose that was enough for Balmer to write me off as a hopeless
heathen because he didn't want to touch this issue of graduating
public school students in his church. Most likely, I think too much
of myself. Most likely, Balmer just didn't want to get anywhere near
the issue because he might give away his real motivations for
renting his sanctuary to the schools by undercutting the fair-market
price of a rental location.
On May 12, I sent an email to
Principal John Tuttle of Bayside High School, Principal Thomas
Sawyer of Eau Gallie High School, and Principal John Thomas of Palm
Bay High School asking the same questions I'd asked of Kidd and
I added a mention of my rights to this
information, seeing as I'd been thwarted in my earlier attempts to
[On May 13, Principal Tuttle
responded saying, "We will consider your concerns as we make
final graduation arrangements."
But I'm not in his school district, so I didn't expect anything
there. I wrote him back expressing my concerns for violation of the
Florida State Constitution and the freedom of conscience of
non-Christian students...just in case it hadn't occurred to him that
some students at his school might not be Christians.]
On May 12, I received a
disappointing reply from Principal Thomas at PBHS. His email grieved
me both as a writer and as a rational person. There isn't much to
it. I copy it here exactly as it reads:
Dianna we are renting the facility as a meeting place and not as a
church. It is not a religious ceremony. We are not asking or
requiring the church to cover up any of their symbols, because again
it is not being used as a church.
Well. What can I say? First, the casual
"Dianna" and "John" make one wonder. Then, the question just begging
to be asked: if you were using it as a church, you would ask
them to cover their religious symbols?
I'd also like to say that something occurs
later in this story that caused me to dislike Mr. Thomas very much
and to think him rather rude.
On May 14, 2004, Florida
Today listed the graduation venues of the local high schools.
Melbourne High School graduated 500
students in its own stadium.
Astronaut High School graduated 400 at
Brevard Community College (BCC) in Titusville
Eau Gallie High School graduated 450
at Calvary Chapel
Satellite High School, 487 at its
Merritt Island High School, 400 at its
Palm Bay High School, 500 at Calvary
Cocoa High School, 280 at its stadium
Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High, 200 in their
Rockledge High, 370 at McLarty Field
Titusville High, 450 at Draa Field
Westshore Jr./Sr., 132 at the King
Bayside High, 450 at Calvary Chapel
Note that PBHS has the same number of
graduates as Melbourne High, which used its own stadium.
On May 14, I wrote my friends at
Space Coast Freethought Association the following note, attached to
a second draft of the letter I planned to send concerning this
"Well, I watched Eau Gallie. They were
definitely there in the sanctuary with that HUGE gold* cross. One of
the valedictorians talked about her faith in Jesus Christ and god,
etc. While she was free to do so, doing so in front of that cross,
in that sanctuary, only added to the spirit of the violation."
On May 26, I sent a hardcopy letter
to Dr. Richard DiPatri, Superintendent of Brevard County Schools. I
copied the letter, via email in almost every instance, to the
members of the Brevard County School Board, principals of Brevard
County high schools, and John Glisch, editor of Florida Today.
I objected to using a church for graduation on three main points:
Paying the church a rental fee is a
violation of the Blaine Amendment in the Florida State
Using the church without covering its
religious iconography leads to the impression of endorsement of
Having public school students receive
diplomas on an altar in front of an enormous cross violates
their freedom of conscience as well as that of their watching
parents and friends
On June 21, 2004 DiPatri
sent me his reply. It was another disappointment for my high
expectations for those in charge of my children's educations.
Basically, DiPatri said that paying the church a rental fee is not a
violation of the Florida State Constitution because we vote in
churches. Again, just because other people are violating the
Constitution doesn't make it right. He could have cited some legal
precedent that allows churches to charge fair-market rental fees for
their use by public institutions, so long as they maintain a secular
setting for the event. He was either not smart enough to do so, or
didn't want to concede that using Calvary Chapel without covering
the cross was a violation of separation of state and church.
He also claimed that he does not believe "holding our high school
graduation ceremonies in a church setting would lead a reasonable
person to believe that the public school system endorses or supports
religion or any particular religion." In other words, "Ms.
Narciso, you're being unreasonable."
He claimed that for our larger schools, the King Center and Florida
Tech (Ms. Kidd's FIT) are not suitable. And stadiums are out because
of "weather, high temperatures, lightening, and rain."
[Hello! High temperatures, lightening, and rain are kinds of
Melbourne High School did experience bad
weather in 2004. You'd think a little planning could have avoided
that. Or you'd think, as Floridians, we'd suck it up and deal with
it. Or better yet, the Christians could just pray the rain away. But
instead, Melbourne High School decided to move their graduation
ceremony to Calvary Chapel in 2005.
On July 30, 2004, I mailed
Dr. DiPatri a response. I, again, emailed this response to all the
usual people. I pointed out other schools ought to be able to use
Melbourne High's stadium, seeing as it was large enough for them.
And I said that if our schools can't find a large enough secular
location, we'd better make due with what we have. Moving our
children to a church is not the answer.
I told him it was perhaps true that only an unreasonable person
would see endorsement in the church venue, but that maybe "it is
only the majority view that the minority is unreasonable for
requesting the maintenance of secularism in secular schools." I
said that one could assert "that a reasonable person would have
no problem erecting, in the Christian facility, symbols of other
religions (and no religion) of equal size to the enormous gold*
cross of Calvary Chapel." I told him I'd send him a picture of
the American Atheists symbol
when he was ready to construct them.
As to his claim that it's okay to pay the church because we vote in
churches, I said, "With all due respect, Dr. DiPatri, that's like
high school students saying, 'it's all right to do drugs, after all,
other people do them.'" I pointed out that he didn't respond to
my point regarding the violation of the freedom of conscience of our
students and their families in forcing them to choose between
graduating in a church and staying home. I asked him to imagine the
outcry from Christians if our schools graduated their students in
the American Atheists convention center with a huge sign reading,
"no gods" as the backdrop.
He didn't write back. [Well, of course
not. If you can't counter someone's factual points, you have to
I had, apparently, been dismissed. [Snap!]
So, according to the secretary of Palm Bay
High School in 2004, the reasons for holding graduations at
the church are: cost, weather/sound at the stadium not good enough,
and everyone else is doing it. According to Dr. DiPatri in 2004, the
reason for doing it is that the stadiums are vulnerable to weather
conditions, and other secular locations just aren't big enough. And
yet, when Mr. Musgrove complained in 2005, Doug Layne, Vice
Principal for facilities at PBHS (and in charge of the graduation
venue) claimed that Florida Tech was unsuitable because "parking
facilities there were not close enough to the building and the
walkway from the parking facilities to the building was not
covered." (From the lawsuit) And finally, Dr. DiPatri, in 2005,
told Americans United that Florida Tech could not be used because
"the configuration of the facility does not allow many of the
parents and guests to see their graduates walk and receive their
diplomas." (From the lawsuit)
I think the district needs to get its
I spent the next year wondering what to
do. I considered standing in front of the school some morning with a
huge sign protesting. I needed to find more parents with the same
concerns, but I didn't know how. I suggested a column on the issue
to the Verge in Florida Today, a section written by
local high school students, but got no response. I almost had a
guest column published in Florida Today. Mr. Glisch had even
called me and asked me to send a picture of myself, which I did. But
the hurricane season of 2004 changed all that. I never did hear from
Glisch about the possibility of publishing it another time.
So, after a year of fretting, I decided on
a brilliant plan of action: I'd write a letter to the editor! It's
sad, I know. But I was defeated. I'd let all those people who
refused to write back to me to dismiss me and like a little girl, I
On Sunday, May 15, 2005, before I
could write my letter, I read in Florida Today that
Americans United for
Separation of Church and State had filed a complaint with the
Brevard County school board. I emailed AU that evening and was part
of the case on Monday.
On Tuesday, before the lawsuit became
public, my name was all over the news. Someone gave them copies of
the letter I'd sent to Dr. DiPatri. At least one station actually
showed the copy of the letter on the air. It wasn't an email; it was
a hardcopy letter. I assume it was DiPatri who gave it to them. They
quoted from it and showed highlighted parts. They also quoted from
the Space Coast Freethought Association website and showed our home
page. I had reporters calling me all day and two reporters showed up
at my door--one with a news van. I had to put a sign on my door
saying, "No Press" and referring them to AU.
After the lawsuit became public, a friend
of mine emailed to tell me that on May 18 at about 8:15 a.m.
on AM 920, the
host, Ed Dean, gave out my name, address, phone number, and
directions to my house and encouraged his listeners to harass me.
After emailing the station, my friend received a reply from John
Harper, owner and president of WMEL Talk Radio, who assured him that
Mr. Dean had been reprimanded.
Nobody showed up at my house that I know
of. And if they called, the harassers didn't leave a message. I
think Mr. Dean's followers are few and gutless.
During that short week before the first
graduation ceremony took place, I visited Calvary Chapel and had a
look around. The outside of the church is very un-church-like. This
seems to be typical of the new mega-church architecture. Inside, the
church looks like a civic center, very upscale and comfortable. They
have a large commons area, a small food court with a cafe, a book
store and gift shop, and a school.
The sanctuary has comfortable seats, and a
balcony in back. Behind the altar there is an enormous wall of
rugged, craggy rock. In the bottom center, a rectangle of that same
rugged stone, about 20 feet high, juts out from the wall. And inset
in the rectangle is the smooth, polished cross. *Because the smooth,
polished stone is brown, and is lit by lights in the floor, it looks
gold in the picture at the church's website. But it's even more
impressive than gold.
Americans United attempted an injunction
to get the schools to move the 2005 graduations out of the church.
But the judge ruled that it was too late for that (even though the
defendants said they could do so if they had to). Too many people
misunderstood the entire proceeding. They seemed to think we had
lost the case and that it was over. They didn't understand that the
injunction was just a part of the lawsuit. We lost the injunction,
but the suit continued.
And of course, there were plenty of people
who thought we were trying to stop the graduations from proceeding
at all, when we just wanted them moved from the church. Part of the
problem was knee-jerk reactions, and part of it was the press and
the sloppy way they sometimes report stories.
The Space Coast Freethought Association
website got a lot of hits and we shared our
hate mail with our
email list members for fun. [And now you, too, can feel the hate.]
I met the Musgroves for the first time at
Palm Bay High School, where we met so that Jennifer could sign some
papers and I could give my signed copies to Mr. Musgrove for
delivery to an attorney. While sitting in the front office waiting
for Jennifer to arrive, the receptionist behind the front desk
glared at us. [Seriously. Glaring. The woman was pissed at us.]
Principal Thomas entered the room and Mr. Musgrove got up to talk to
him. He approached with his hand out in a conciliatory gesture, but
Thomas refused to take it. [My turn to be pissed. What an ASS!
That's right. I said it. The man behaved like an ASS to one of the
sweetest men I've ever met in my life.] Mr. Musgrove spoke
softly and apologetically. He said he didn't intend the timing of
the case to turn out the way it did [that we would be so close to
graduations with the injunction request] but Thomas was rude to him
and said he should drop the lawsuit. I could feel my anger rising. I
almost got up and approached them. I wanted to tell Mr. Musgrove to
stop apologizing to that man. Thomas was the one in the wrong; he
was the one causing the problems, not us. Mr. Musgrove is a very
polite, soft-spoken man. And Mr. Thomas is a bully in a suit. [Snap!]
On May 18, Sara Stern, spokeswoman
for the Brevard County School District said in an article in
Florida Today, "We don't believe the ceremonies are
unconstitutional...We're prepared to go to court on that position."
In a May 19 article in the Orlando Sentinel, Stern
is quoted saying, "...the bottom line is we're still going to
hold the ceremonies at Calvary Chapel unless a judge tells us we
According to a story in Florida Today
on May 19, 2005, during the injunction hearing, Middle
District of Florida Judge Gregory Presnell "dismissed the district's
assertions that facility size or the potential for bad
weather...were sufficient reasons to use the church. 'It's clear
to me a secular facility without those icons should have been chosen
in order to protect the interests of everyone, and to maintain the
separation of church and state that has allowed religion in this
country to flourish,' he said." [Halle-freakin-yulah! Finally
a sane person.]
Everything went quiet for a while. Many
people were mistaken in the notion that we had lost the lawsuit. But
all we'd lost was the injunction. The suit proceeded to the
settlement phase where the sides negotiate...or go to court. With
all the bravado shown by the school board, I was sure they would
continue with the suit, especially after they drew a judge who was
conservative. But I heard from AU that a settlement negotiation was
in progress and I eventually approved the points involved.
On October 26, 2005, James Dean,
Florida Today reporter, called to tell me that the school board had
voted to approve the settlement in this case. The headline in the
paper the next day read:
Church Graduations Banned. That's not exactly true. But,
hey, a good headline sells papers. I said a few things to Dean, but
he was kind enough only to print a very bland statement. AU reminded
me not to talk to reporters until the settlement was entered by the
court because negative publicity could derail it even then.
Unfortunately, a new problem had arisen
here in Brevard--Life Choices. You can read about our fight against
it here. I was thrust back into the
spotlight in another separation of church and state complaint.
When Dean's article and a Florida Today
editorial resulted in a block of letters at Florida Today,
all angry with the school board for settling the case, I didn't dare
write in and say anything. Many people were fooled by the headline
into thinking that there was no way we could use Calvary Chapel in
the future. And of course, they didn't care at all about the
religious freedom of non-Christians. Another block of letters showed
up in Florida Today several days later. This time, there was
one letter with a positive slant on the issue from an SCFA member
who told readers to complain to the church, not the school board, if
they wanted to graduate there.
In making noise about the Life Choices
program, I heard that County Commissioner Jackie Colon berated the
school board for settling in the graduation case and dared them to
act on the Life Choices complaint. And school board member Amy
Kneesy told AM 1240, regarding Life Choices, the school board
wouldn't "buckle under" this time. Many people have contacted the
county commission and school board about Life Choices only to find
them steeped in Christianity and very much against separation of
religion and government.
On November 12, 2005 Jennifer was
given the "student activist" award of $1000 at the annual
Freedom From Religion
Foundation convention; she talked about her various fights for
separation of church and state throughout her high school years. I
spoke for a few minutes on the case and they surprised me with a
"friend of the first amendment" award. It was fabulous!
Articles, etc. still available on the graduation
May 18 Judge allows graduation in church but sides with AU
Updated Oct 21, 2011 Musgrove vs. Brevard County School Board
Pat Campbell's blog (we're 2/3 of the way down under "Tyranny of
you can leave your comments here
The Religious Right: Corrupting the Cross and the Constitution
In Loving Memory of one of My Heroes
Jennifer Diane Musgrove
May 14, 1987-September 20, 2010