FRENCH LICK, Ind. — A school district in Indiana has agreed to no longer include prayer during its kindergarten graduation ceremonies after receiving a letter from a prominent professing atheist organization.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter last month to Tony Whitaker, the superintendent of Springs Valley Community Schools, upon receiving a complaint from a parent, who it did not identify.
The parent had advised that the May graduation ceremony for Springs Valley Elementary School students included a prayer by a five or six-year-old student.
“Including religious rituals, such as prayer, in school-sponsored functions shows school endorsement of religion, which violates the Establishment Clause to the U.S. Constitution,” FFRF attorney Ryan Jayne wrote.
The Establishment Clause reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
“School events must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students,” Jayne asserted. “It is coercive and inappropriate for the district to have a student lead other students and their parents in a prayer.”
“This is especially egregious when the prayer is delivered to a captive group of impressionable school children as young as five years old,” he continued. “Parents, not public schools, are responsible for the religious or nonreligious upbringing of their children.”
On Sept. 12, Whitaker replied to FFRF to advise that prayer will no longer be a part of the graduation ceremony.
“Springs Valley School Corporation will eliminate from any future kindergarten graduation ceremonies the section on prayer and will not allow any prayer at the graduation,” he wrote in the brief two-sentence response.
FFRF says that it is pleased with the outcome of the matter.
“Why on earth were kindergartners being compelled to join in prayer?” said Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor in a statement. “We’re pleased that we played a key role in getting this deleterious practice ended.”
In 1828, just 52 years after the nation’s founding, Noah Webster, known as the Father of American Scholarship and Education, wrote, “In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed. … No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.”
Webster, a schoolmaster, wrote the quote in his preface to the nation’s first dictionary, which often cited Christianity and the Bible.