PIKEVILLE, Ky. — Students in a Kentucky school district will no longer be allowed to present prayers during graduation ceremonies after the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) recently wrote to the district to state that the practice violates the principle of government neutrality toward religion.
FFRF had sent the letter in August after being informed by a “concerned citizen” that the July graduation for Pikeville High School included three Christian prayers — with a remark on the “war on the Christian faith.”
One of those who prayed was Principal Jason Booher’s own son, Harrison. View his prayer here at approximately 50:00 into the recording.
“God, I ask you to continue to watch over us as we start this new chapter in our lives,” he said in part. “When times get rough, and it feels as if we are drowning, I ask that You reach out Your arm and comfort us. Never let us forget that it was You who got us here. You deserve all the credit and praise.”
“Dear Lord, continue to shape us into the men and women you want us to be,” Booher continued. “We thank you, and we love you. In Jesus name we pray, amen.”
“The Supreme Court has continually struck down prayers at school-sponsored events, including public school graduations,” FFRF wrote, citing the 1992 Lee v. Weisman decision. “It is well-settled that schools may not include prayer in graduation ceremonies.”
“It makes no difference how many students want prayer or wouldn’t be offended by prayer at their graduation ceremony; the courts have continually reaffirmed that the rights of minorities are nonetheless protected by the Constitution,” the self-described church-state separation group stated.
“The district has a duty to remain neutral toward religion, and by scheduling prayers at graduation, it abridges that duty and alienates the 38 percent of younger Americans who are not religious.”
FFRF consequently requested that the district disallow benedictions, invocations and prayer of any kind from being presented at graduation ceremonies or any other school events.
In a news release posted on Thursday, FFRF says that has since received a response from an attorney representing Pikeville Independent Schools, who advised that he has counseled Booher to not let the prayers happen again.
“I represent the Pikeville Independent School District as board attorney,” the attorney wrote. “I have had the opportunity to review your attached letter and wanted to let you know that I have advised the principal to refrain from religious prayer at future graduations.”
FFRF expressed satisfaction with the development, with Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor remarking, “The culmination of 13 years of secular education should end not in divisive and exclusionary prayer, but in a celebration that welcomes all students and participants. We’re confident that Pikeville Independent Schools will keep its word and won’t subject its graduating class to prayers.”
As previously reported, in 2013, one student at Lincoln County High School in Stanford, Kentucky presented a prayer during his graduation ceremony despite requests from six students to Principal Tim Godbey not to include an invocation in the program.
“If I want to have a prayer, the school can’t stop me,” said class President Jonathan Hardwick. “[B]ut the school can’t say, ‘Come up here and pray’ [as] that’s the school supporting prayer, but if I want to pray, they can’t stop me.”
“Thank you for helping us get here safely today, Lord,” he consequently prayed from the podium. “And thank you for the many blessings You have given us.”
Attendees cheered and applauded and soon rose to their feet. View the recording of his prayer here.