EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio — A school board in Ohio is being urged to reconsider removing the Lord’s Prayer from its upcoming graduation ceremony after it was scrapped following a complaint from a prominent professing atheist organization.
According to reports, a parent of a student at East Liverpool High School contacted the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) following last year’s commencement to express their objection to the song.
The Lord’s Prayer has been a part of the graduation ceremony for the past ten years, but because FFRF contacted the East Liverpool School District to complain, officials decided to drop the song from the program to avoid a potential legal battle.
“The district should keep its musical program secular to respect the diversity of beliefs held by its students and families and to be inclusive of all students,” the correspondence read. “It makes no difference how many students want religious songs or wouldn’t be offended by them at their graduation ceremony. A graduation should be a celebration for all students, not an exercise in excluding non-religious students with a worship song.”
There was never any official vote on the matter nor public meeting about the issue, and the song was not fully discussed among the board until recently when members exchanged emails with each other about the issue.
“I am hearing parents threatening to withdraw their students. I was elected to represent the views of the community, and they are screaming,” wrote board member Patricia Persohn in correspondence obtained by The Review. “I do believe it is just a matter of time before we are engaged in a fight. We need to set this issue aside right now and move on.”
“The public can take it up with the Supreme Court. Clearly, trying to quietly remove it from [the] program didn’t work,” opined board member Sarah Porter. “My best guess, they (the students) will choose to recite, sing, whatever they want when it comes to the prayer. I’m ok with them reciting it, singing it, dancing it, but it doesn’t make it ok.”
Superintendent Melissa Watson said that the prayer would have to go despite the personal feelings of the board.
“I am a Christian and it hurts me that there is even a question about it, but as superintendent, I have to put that aside. As you said, we can’t make it legal. I’m just sorry this is happening,” she wrote.
East Liverpool High School’s choir director, Lisa Ensinger, stood before the board during Monday’s meeting as she tearfully requested that the song be restored to the program. She has worked as the choir director at the school for 18 years.
“As a person of faith it means a great deal to me as you know, but as an educator I see this as an opening to a very broad door that can cause great detriment to our music education program,” Ensinger stated.
She said that if the Lord’s Prayer is not allowed, then the choir would also have to scrap other songs simply because they are religious in nature.
“Handel’s Messiah would no longer be allowed. All of the music of the Medieval period would never be allowed,” Ensinger explained.
She asserted that such songs are not illegal if they have educational value. Ensinger also relayed that her students are disappointed that the Lord’s Prayer will not be a part of the program this year, including one who identifies as an atheist.
“My students are devastated,” she said.
No changes were made following Monday’s meeting.