NORTH VERNON, Ind. — An Indiana school district has discontinued all invocations during school programs following a complaint from a prominent professing atheist organization.
Earlier this year, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to the superintendent of Jennings County Schools to request that prayer be kept out of district-sponsored events.
It advised that a complainant, who was not named, informed them that students had delivered prayer at the 2014 and 2015 academic honors dinner, and that prayer is also a part of district graduation ceremonies.
“It is unconstitutional for Jennings County Schools to schedule, approve or otherwise endorse prayers or other religious messages,” the letter read. “A prayer taking place at a ‘regularly scheduled school-sponsored function conducted on school property’ would lead an objective observer to perceive it as state endorsement of religion.”
“It makes no difference how many students want prayer or would not be offended by prayer at their graduation ceremony,” it continued. “The district has a duty to remain neutral toward religion. By scheduling prayers at graduation, the district abridges that duty and alienates the 35% of young Americans who are not religious.”
According to FFRF, the district resisted for some time, but due to follow-up letters, it now has advised that prayer will no longer be a part of school programs.
“Please be advised that Jennings County School Corporation will no longer incorporate prayer as an official aspect of any program,” the response, written by attorney Murielle Bright, simply stated.
FFRF applauded the outcome.
“We’re pleased that the district realized the importance of not violating constitutional boundaries or turning nonbelievers into outsiders at their graduation,” Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement. “We’re confident that it won’t be incorporating prayer in its graduation ceremony from now onward.”
John Witherspoon, a Presbyterian minister who was among the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation, said in 1778, “[H]e is the best friend to American liberty who is most sincere and active in promoting true and undefiled religion, and who sets himself with the greatest firmness to bear down profanity and immorality of every kind. Whoever is an avowed enemy to God, I scruple not to call him an enemy to his country.”
“God grant that in America true religion and civil liberty may be inseparable, and that the unjust attempts to destroy the one may in the issue tend to the support and establishment of both,” he said.