EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio — The valedictorian of a high school in Ohio led his class in a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer during their graduation ceremony this past weekend after a musical version of the prayer that has traditionally been a part of the commencement for years was removed due to an atheist complaint.
As previously reported, 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.”
While there was never any official vote or public discussion about the matter until recently, Superintendent Melissa Watson opined to the board in email correspondence that the prayer would have to go despite the personal feelings of district officials.
“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.
Most others on the board agreed.
East Liverpool High School’s choir director of 18 years, Lisa Ensinger, urged the board earlier this month to restore the song, stating 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.
“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 explained. “Handel’s Messiah would no longer be allowed. All of the music of the Medieval period would never be allowed.”
However, no changes were made to the directive to scrap the song despite her emotional plea.
But on Saturday, valedictorian Jonathan Montgomery led his classmates in a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer anyway, asking them to stand to their feet.
“Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name,” the graduates declared. “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.”
Following their recital of the words of Christ as found in Matthew 6 and Luke 11, those in attendance erupted in applause, standing to their feet and cheering.
Board President Larry Walton said that he is considering offering a non-denominational baccalaureate service for students next year.