Smile Politely

A teacher at Centennial had a priest conduct Ash Wednesday service in school today; UPDATED

In a city that is known for having played host to the landmark trial defending the 1st Amendment right to the Separation of Church and State (McCollum v. Board of Education), it is with a great deal of shock that this came across the Smile Politely desk anonymously this evening. 


That right there is Father Joel Phelps of St. Patrick’s in Urbana, placing ashes on the foreheads of young Catholic children. Not in a place of worship, but inside Centennial High School. 

Any reasonable person who lives in America and understands the basic principles upon which our nation was founded will understand why allowing something like this to take place inside of a publicly funded school building is 100% unconstitutional and illegal. 

My initial questions are these: 

  1. Why would a teacher at a public school ever consider this to be an even remotely OK thing to endorse and organize? 
  2. Why would Father John Phelps not remind said teacher about the importance of obeying the 1st Amendment, and instead suggest that they organize a trip to church instead? 

And to that end, let me be clear about a few things: 

  1. I know for a certain fact that every single student that wished to observe Ash Wednesday would have been given an excused absence. 
  2. There is nothing wrong with believing in God. I believe in “God.” 
  3. There is absolutely no reason for a ceremony of this kind to take place inside of a publicly funded high school. 

The person who posted this picture is, in fact, a teacher. Allegedly, it was a teacher that organized the priest coming into school. 

While we are still awaiting an official statement from Unit 4, the most important question here is simple: “Did Unit 4 administration know about this?”

UPDATE: Stephanie Stuart, spokesperson for Unit 4, replied this evening with the following:

“We are aware of the incident and will investigate diligently in order to gain a clear understanding of the situation.”

We’ve asked for a statement, and have not received a reply to as of 8:15 p.m.

One of our community writers, Jay Rosenstein, directed and produced a documentary film on the trial some years back. You can watch it here: 

It’s also worth noting that McCollum is mother of Dannel McCollum, the former Mayor of Champaign

More as it comes in, but folks, if you’d like to take a Facebook photo of what the very opposite of the American foundation looks like, it’s sitting above you. 

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