Prayer in School: How about graduation ceremonies?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Prayer in School
High School graduation ceremony

DOES THE SIZE OF THE CLASS MATTER? The towns where legal questions arise over graduation prayer tend to be smaller and school officials assume “everyone” shares the same faith. But many high school classes across the U.S. are as big as this one, graduating in a huge arena. Diversity is more obvious. What’s your experience in big or small schools?

Officially sponsored prayers are banned in public schools. Such prayers violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. But how far does this ban go?

Does it include prayers at graduation ceremonies?

The vast majority of Americans (75%) favor allowing students to say prayers at graduation ceremonies as part of the official program, according to a new Gallup poll. Americans who frequently attend church are more likely to support the practice, compared to those who don’t. But even 62% of those who seldom attend church support it.

Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to say that students should be allowed to say a prayer at graduation ceremonies. Still, a majority of Democrats (65%) also support the practice.

Public opinion is one thing, the law is something else. Just because a majority of Americans favor a practice doesn’t make it constitutional. Here’s what the U.S. Department of Education has to say about this particular practice:

School officials may not mandate or organize prayer at graduation or select speakers for such events in a manner that favors religious speech such as prayer. Where students or other private graduation speakers are selected on the basis of genuinely neutral, evenhanded criteria and retain primary control over the content of their expression, however, that expression is not attributable to the school and therefore may not be restricted because of its religious (or anti-religious) content. To avoid any mistaken perception that a school endorses student or other private speech that is not in fact attributable to the school, school officials may make appropriate, neutral disclaimers to clarify that such speech (whether religious or nonreligious) is the speaker’s and not the school’s.

Thus, a student speaker would be allowed to say a prayer at graduation ceremonies if the speaker was selected on a neutral and impartial basis and retained control over the content of what was said. This neutrality policy would also allow an atheist or agnostic to speak at graduation ceremonies.

What’s your opinion about prayers at graduation ceremonies?
Should they be allowed?
Or, should prayers at graduation ceremonies be strictly prohibited?

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  1. Amanda Udis-Kessler says

    I’m all for prayer at graduation ceremonies as long as it rotates among different religions. Perhaps Christian one year, Jewish the next, Muslim the following year, then Hindu, then Sikh then humanist…I’m serious. If you only use Christian prayers you are pushing Christianity on all religious students and families who are not Christian (and not anything).