Some words with the plaintiffs: Ashley Mockett

Compiled by: Keith Cousins

Lariat: Describe the three separate occasions when you were “subjected to official prayer.”

How did these events make you feel?

Ashley Mocket: The first one was at a scholarship ceremony in 2008 were Trustee Wagner went into not really a prayer but more of a political tirade and mentioned things such as him not making anyone stand.

At the time, I had no idea of the previous complaints because as students you rarely go to these events and it made Wagner’s comments very shocking to me.

As an atheist, I am aware of groups and dialogue regarding prayer but I didn’t know the context at Saddleback College. How could I not take it personally?

The second occasion was the scholarship ceremony in 2009, after the free thinkers club had been founded because many of us were offended and shocked by the invocations and wanted to raise awareness. We also found out that many faculty members were fighting this. The foundation had pulled out of planning the scholarship ceremony and it seemed as though student government would be planning the event. But at the last minute the rug was pulled out and Burnett decided he would have the final decision when it came to the scholarship ceremony, including the invocation, which he chose to keep.

A bunch of people planned to protest but we were told not to do so by student services. We still talked about protesting but I was approached
by Tillman, who asked me not to protest. It was hard to be told that I would be just as bad as the board if I protested. I felt ignored, I was getting a scholarship and it was supposed to be a night of celebration for the hard work I put in.

Finally was the graduation ceremony, where Trustee Fuentes blessed everyone. I along with faculty members held up signs and someone even yelled at Fuentes.

It becomes more about drawing out religious beliefs rather then celebrating them. Some people feel that a public school shouldn’t be a forced place when it comes to religion, there is never any productive dialogue. It has never once brought anyone together. It should have been an enormous milestone in my life, instead it was completely about prayer.

L: What previous actions have you taken to advocate for the removal of an official invocation?

AM: I encouraged the ASG to bring forward a resolution that school was not a place to lead religious worship. I also attended a school board meeting and encouraged the board not to hire the lawyer and promoted having a moment of silence.

A letter was also written that I was going to have Westphal read but the board would not let her. I finally sent one more email saying that I have gained so much at Saddleback College and wanted to be a part of all the ceremonies so I asked them one more time not to pray.

L: How did you feel about the effectiveness of these actions?

AM: They were completely ignored. Even when we did get the resolution passed by ASG, Burnett eventually sided with the trustees. People, mostly staff, would say thank you to me in the halls. They were afraid for their jobs but very passionate about the issue. I felt that we did a very good job conveying and taking the right steps with faculty members and student
government. It is pretty obvious they want to do what they want to do.

L: What brought about the lawsuit? Why sue now?

AM: AU is a very busy organization so every case is something that has to be evaluated for a while. Carla Westphal brought it to their attention and went through a lot of things. They eventually wrote the first letter to the board about invocations and faculty functions. The whole issue came to a head with the “God Bless the USA” presentation, it was just mind blowing.

I have been waiting to sue, I told them a year ago I would sue if I could. We have just been waiting on the AU, a lot had to fall into place.