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On Friday, May 20, during a speech at the graduation ceremony for Dawson County High School in Dawsonville, Georgia, retiring Superintendent Damon Gibbs used his pulpit to preach Christianity to the captive audience in an attempt to get them to convert.

That’s not an exaggeration either. After “joking” about how there were things he could and could not say at a public school graduation, he offered a couple of examples of each one. And falling in the “things you cannot say” category was an unabashed call for students to convert to Christianity.

Later in the speech, he mocked transgender students and spread a (debunked) conspiracy theory about kids “identifying as cats.”

My name is Damon Gibbs, and it is my great honor to call Dawson County home and to serve as your superintendent of schools…

With this being my last graduation address, I want to take just a minute to do what I decided to do almost three decades ago: teach. It seems each year I hear questions about what can and can’t be said during a graduation ceremony in a public school setting.

Without wasting too much of your time, I would like to clarify the issue in true teacher fashion. The best way to do this is to use practical examples. So here are two. Example number one, what I can say. I often tell students if they are looking for the answers to all of life’s questions, the Bible is a great place to start. What I cannot say is that the bible is not just a book. It’s 66 books, written by 40 writers over 1,500 years, historically accurate in that it predicted the birth, crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It does not simply contain the truth, it is the truth! The unwavering, inspired word of God. There is no comparable book. But just to reiterate, I cannot say that.

… I am at the point that I don’t care what gender you want to be. Just don’t expect me to guess your pronouns. I am obviously a little out of the loop because I recently found out that a group of kids now identify as cats. I am not joking. What are we supposed to do with that? 

That superintendent used his final speech to graduating students to tell everyone that he thinks Jews, Muslims, atheists, and all other non-Christians are going to be tortured for all eternity, that trans kids don’t deserve rights, and that the guy in charge of everyone’s education is dumb enough to believe every right-wing conspiracy theory he hears. (In March, a Nebraska Republican had to apologize after spreading the same unfounded rumor.)

If someone else in his position used that opportunity to tell students God was a myth, or that they should worship Allah, there’s no question he’d face backlash. No one would let this go due to his impending retirement if he weren’t a Christian promoting Christianity.

Not only did Gibbs hijack a day that was meant to celebrate the students and make it all about himself, he knew what he was doing was wrong because he literally said that in the speech! I guess he thought that, since he’s retiring, he’d avoid any consequences.

Maybe he’s right about that. But the Freedom From Religion Foundation isn’t letting it slide. On behalf of someone in the district who felt Gibbs “destroyed” a special event, they sent a letter to the district’s lawyer explaining why it was wrong (and perhaps laying the groundwork for a future lawsuit).

“Public schools have a duty to ensure that ‘subsidized teachers do not inculcate religion’ or use their positions of authority to promote a particular religious viewpoint,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to the legal counsel for Dawson County Schools, quoting the Supreme Court.  “The Supreme Court has recognized that ‘[f]amilies entrust public schools with the education of their children, but condition their trust on the understanding that the classroom will not purposely be used to advance religious views that may conflict with the private beliefs of the student and his or her family.’ The same is true of district administrators.” 

Dawson County Schools needs to take immediate action. For instance, the district must ensure its entire staff is trained regarding their responsibilities under the Establishment Clause.

“This is an absolutely outrageous in-your-face constitutional violation,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “Students of the school district deserve better than this.”

The letter also notes that FFRF has “written to the District multiple times over the past 8 years.” So it’s not like this district can pretend to be ignorant about church/state separation. Administrators are well aware of the rules. But they’d rather have their leader belittle non-Christians and LGBTQ kids than celebrate students who are completing high school. They’d rather treat graduation like those Christian singers on a plane than use the day to honor the graduates.

The only thing Damon Gibbs’ speech was good for was showing students an example of a horrible role model. Whatever they choose to do in the future, let’s hope they never turn out to be a Christian jackass like him.

Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.