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Paid to pray at graduation?
May 2, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
Ah, the merry month of May. 'Tis the season for high school graduations ... and lawsuits over who gets to pray at them.
The Washington Times reports that the Rev. Gordon James Klingenschmitt is offering a $1,000 college scholarship to the first student in St. Johns County, Fla., who says the Lord's Prayer or the words "in Jesus name" over the microphone during the high school graduation ceremony later this month. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is threatening a lawsuit if the school district adopts a policy allowing students to deliver prayer or other inspirational messages during a graduation.
Will all the students vying for the scholarship fight to be first at the microphone? Will the Freedom from Religion Foundation have cause to file a lawsuit? According to the Times, Florida's legislature passed a law last year that allows such messages provided that school officials don't influence the students and students are entirely responsible for the message that is delivered.
The school board in St. Johns County decided not to adopt the policy after their attorney advised them not to. However, I don't know what they could do to a student speaker who chose to lead a prayer at the ceremony itself. Student speakers have pretty wide latitude in the subject of a graduation address and, provided it is student written, a prayer would be an exercise of the student's right to freedom of expression. This time there's money involved, so I'm pretty sure there WILL be a graduation prayer.
When I graduated from high school, it was still common practice for a minister or priest to deliver a benediction at the graduation ceremony. The local pastors took turns speaking from year to year. Not long after I graduated, the practice was deemed unconstitutional.
North Dakota high schools seem to have settled on holding a separate baccalaureate ceremony for the graduates at a local church, usually about a week before the ceremony. Students can choose to attend or avoid the baccalaureate altogether. This seems a more sensible way to incorporate God into a public high school graduation than Florida's law.
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