LAS VEGAS, N.M. (AP) - The state Public Education Department and the American Civil Liberties Union are looking into a religious ceremony before graduation at Robertson High School that students were told they had to attend.
Attendance at the May 19 baccalaureate at Immaculate Conception Church in Las Vegas was listed as mandatory in three separate written notices the administration sent to students. The notices also promoted a senior Mass at Immaculate Conception, but that was listed as optional.
Robertson principal Richard Lopez said that despite the notices, going to baccalaureate was optional and students could opt out by talking to him. The Las Vegas Optic reported that Lopez did not call back when the newspaper asked how students would know they could opt out and why the event was listed as mandatory.
A Public Education Department spokeswoman, Beverly Friedman, said student attendance at religious ceremonies is not mandatory. New Mexico law says no public school student or teacher "shall ever be required to attend or participate in any religious service whatsoever."
Friedman said the state would investigate.
The head of the American Civil Liberties Union in New Mexico, Peter Simonson, said the situation was troubling and the ACLU was looking into it.
"The fact that the school made this mandatory represents a significant infringement on the students' religious freedoms," he said.
Even without listing it as mandatory, the baccalaureate still could pose a problem, Simonson said.
"Mandatory or not, the school government in this case was taking on the role of a church and the mere fact that it had so entangled itself with this ceremony means that it was endorsing a particular religious belief," he said. "So even if the school had not advertised the event as mandatory, they wildly overstepped their bounds."