POTTSGROVE, Pa. — A 20-year tradition of including prayer at one high school graduation in Pennsylvania has come to an end this year following the objection of an “annoyed” Jewish board member who believes the invocations could be offensive to non-Christians.
According to reports, Rick Rabinowitz, who complained as a board member and now serves as board president, sent an email to Pottsgrove Superintendent Shellie Feola and Assistant Superintendent William Shirk to complain about the prayer at the Pottsgrove High School graduation ceremony.
“As a person who was raised in the Jewish faith, I am very sensitive to efforts by Christians to veil their expressions of religious belief in ‘non-denominational’ prayer,” he wrote according to The Mercury. “Last year, the invocation and benediction did, at best, a poor job of doing this and I was mightily annoyed.”
Rabinowitz cited his annoyance at student Bernard Steyaert’s use of the word “sinners” and reference to Jesus Christ.
“You are all powerful and all knowing. You know each one of our hearts,” Steyaert prayed. “We recognize that without You none of us could have made it to this treasured day.”
“Lord, we pray for humility in the presence of a God worthy of all praise,” he continued. “Lord, we come now as marred people. Underneath this cap and gown and all the glamour we cover ourselves with is an imperfect sinful person. We pray for forgiveness in all our shortcomings and faults in Your eyes. Lord, give us the humility to repent for our flaws against You and against each other.”
“When Bernard proclaimed us all ‘sinners,’ I nearly lost it. This, again, is a specifically Christian notion. It certainly does not exist in Judaism and I strongly suspect it doesn’t exist in any other non-Christian religion,” Rabinowitz said. “And then, finally, the reference to Jesus Christ at the end, while clearly not approved (at least I hope it wasn’t) was rude, ignorant and self centered.”
He stated that he “did not want to rain on the parade of good feeling, and thus, said nothing directly after the ceremony” but waited until a more opportune time to express his objection and appeal to the superintendent to end the prayer practice.
Attorneys for Pottsgrove High School agreed last August that the prayer could present a legal problem and therefore the invocation was scrubbed from the ceremony. However, parents did not find out about the decision until recently, which drew controversy.
Some board members soon requested a public meeting so students and parents could make their opinions heard over the issue, and Rabinowitz agreed.
“While the district cannot endorse a prayer of any sort, the students have a right to freedom of speech and we cannot censor their speeches, or anything they might choose to say,” board member Bill Parker told CBS Philadelphia.
“It should be up to the students,” also remarked board member Patty Grimm. “I’m sure there’s other ways it can be done, but then again I would like the students’ input.”
Board member Matt Alexander, along with Parker and Grimm, “felt that we should allow the public to air its points of view to us and that we should deliberate in public and make any decisions in public,” Rabinowitz explained.
A meeting is scheduled for Tuesday at the high school.
As previously reported, in early America, 123 of the first 126 colleges established in America were founded on Christian principles. Harvard University, named after Pastor John Harvard, held the motto “Truth for Christ and the Church.”
“Let every scholar be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ, which is eternal life. Therefore, to lay Christ in the bottom as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning…” its student manual read.
Princeton’s motto was “Under God’s Power She Flourishes.” The first president of Princeton, Pastor Jonathan Dickinson, said, “Cursed be all learning that is contrary to the cross of Christ.”
Yale also wrote in its requirements in 1745, “All scholars shall live religious, godly and blameless lives according to the rules of God’s word, diligently reading the Scriptures…”