A high school student in DeKalb County, Georgia, is boycotting her graduation ceremony because it is to be held at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, the megachurch of embattled pastor Eddie Long.
Nahkoura Mahnassi, 16, told local media that she refuses to participate in Southwest DeKalb High School's ceremony if it will be held inside a church because neither she nor her mother are Christians. The teen also said she does not "like" New Birth. When asked why, she said, "It's kind of a long story, but I don't like churches or New Birth so I'm not going," reported Atlanta news station WSB-TV.
New Birth Missionary Baptist Church has often been featured in national and local media over the past several years because of its charismatic head pastor, Long, who has been the main figure in several controversies, including sexual misconduct allegations, alleged multiple counts of financial fraud, and a recent controversy following the guest appearance of Rabbi Ralph Messer at the church. Messer performed a "crowning" ceremony with a Torah scroll on Long, the video of which went viral online and brought both ministers criticism from Christians and Jews.
But Mahnassi's objection to attending her high school graduation at New Birth apparently has nothing to do with the controversies surrounding Long, as she told the press her decision is based on her belief in a secularism. "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," she said.
The student's mother, Alisha Brown, supports her daughter's decision. She reportedly called the church a poor choice for the school graduation ceremony, adding that it should be held at a neutral venue. She rebuked school administrators' argument that a church is just a building, noting that if New Birth was actually a gathering place for Satanists, administrators would have a different response.
"A church is a place you go to worship your God," she said. "I'm not a Christian. Church and state should be separated. That's what I heard so to have it at a church, especially at New Birth is a slap in the face," Brown said.
DeKalb County School District released a statement to the press saying that it is holding commencements at several locations this year, suggesting that the venue size is the main concern.
The high school graduation is to take place on May 25. Neither the DeKalb County School District nor New Birth Missionary Baptist Church officials were available for immediate comment.