Published April 10, 2012
A Georgia student is reportedly refusing to attend her high school graduation because the ceremony is being held inside a controversial Baptist megachurch.
Nahkoura Mahnassi, a 16-year-old student at Southwest DeKalb High School, and her mother say the commencement ceremony planned for May 25 at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church violates the separation of church and state because not all the graduates are Christian.
"People don't all have the same views and that having it at one place where the major views are Christian, it's completely different for some people," Mahnassi told WSBTV.com.
The high-achieving senior with a reported 3.8 GPA said she thinks the ceremony should take place at a neutral venue, like the Georgia Dome.
"A church is a place you go to worship your God. I'm not a Christian. Church and state should be separated," added her mother, Alisha Brown, who called the decision to hold it at the church a "slap in the face," according to the station.
It is not the first time the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church has been the center of controversy. Its pastor, Eddie Long, was accused in 2010 of sexual misconduct by underage male members of the church. Lawsuits were settled out of court last year, and Long has denied any wrongdoing.
In a statement released to WSBTV.com, the DeKalb County School District said each year it "looks to find spaces big enough to host our largest graduating classes.
"This year, Southwest DeKalb High School is holding its graduation at a faith-based organization in the community. This is based on a previous agreement that expires this year," the statement read. "We will continue to work to find the best and most appropriate venues to accommodate our students as they celebrate such an important milestone."