ODESSA, Texas — A number of Texas residents protested their local school district on Monday after officials decided to make prayer optional at its upcoming graduation ceremony, nixing the senior class’ vote to have prayer at the event.
The Ector County Independent School District announced on Friday that it was changing its invocation and benediction to an “opening and closing,” and would randomly select two students who can decide how to use the time—whether in prayer or not.
According to reports, district officials had been contacted by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which threatened a lawsuit if the prayer portion of the graduation was not amended.
“The school district had a policy of having the students vote on whether or not to have a prayer at the graduations or not. This was in clear violation of a U.S. Supreme Court case,” said Americans United (AU) Associate Legal Director Alex Luchenitser told Permian Basin 360.
The district said that it had to adjust the policy, even though many board members professed to be Christians, due its agreement with AU that the practice violated Supreme Court precedent.
“Some of the finest Christian people I’ve ever met work in this building right here and this is not a local decision,” board member Doyle Woodall told reporters. “This is a decision that was forced on the state of Texas by the Supreme Court.”
Woodall attended the protest on Monday outside of the district headquarters, as students and parents alike gathered with signs and amplification to speak out in support of keeping prayer at the event. He told NewsWest 9 that he was glad to see the demonstration as he believes that it could help bring about change—eventually.
“Y’all keep standing up for Jesus and you’ll always end up in the right place,” Woodall told those gathered.
Youth as young as eight years old attended the protest, some of which spoke their heart through a megaphone.
“Basically, we have the right to pray, because all of this was created by Him,” Nathan Coudding preached to those in attendance.
Others held signs with messages such as “We are a democracy; we voted to pray” and “As Americans, we have the freedom to pray!”
“This country was founded on God,” local resident Allen Sutphen told reporters. “It’s something we’ve been doing, they did it at my graduation in 1978 and there’s no need to change it now because it offends somebody.”
The gathering also included a time of prayer, as those in attendance joined hands and bowed their heads. Hearty “amens!” were heard as well as various attendees took time to speak.
As previously reported, the mention of God at graduation has been a frequent point of contention at ceremonies nationwide. Last year, Roy Costner IV drew loud applause and cheers when he surprised attendees of South Carolina’s Liberty High School graduation at Clemson’s Littlejohn Colliseum following the school district’s decision to no longer include prayer at graduation ceremonies.
After taking the podium, Costner took his approved speech and ripped it in half for all to see. As he spoke from a separate script for a few minutes, Costner then began to thank his parents for his Christian upbringing.
“Those that we look up to, they have helped carve and mold us into the young adults that we are today,” he said. “I’m so glad that both of my parents led me to the Lord at a young age.”
“And I think most of you will understand when I say…” he continued, surprising the crowd with what came next. “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come…”
As attendees realized that Costner was reciting the Lord’s Prayer, applause began to break out in the colliseum. Within seconds, the applause was accompanied by loud cheers.
The district decided not to take action against Costner, stating that they would not punish him for his faith.