Thursday, May 24, 2007

Student-Initiated Prayer and Youth Minister Allowed at Graduation After All

Omaha, AR - Two members of the Omaha High School senior class, chosen by their classmates to open and close their graduation ceremony on Friday, were initially told by school administrators not to pray. School administrators similarly nixed a youth ministry leader selected by the students as the commencement speaker but changed course after the involvement of Liberty Counsel.
After school administrators announced there would be a problem with student prayer and a speaker with a religious vocation at graduation, Kendon Underwood, vice president of Omaha High's senior class, contacted Liberty Counsel to challenge the opposition seniors were facing from school officials. The students were told their opening and closing remarks could not consist of a student-initiated and student-led prayer, despite the unanimous approval of the senior class. They were also told their choice of Harrison K-Life director David Griffith to speak was unacceptable because K-Life is a Christian ministry and he might use graduation to speak about religious topics.
Liberty Counsel demanded the school district reverse that position, citing the First Amendment's prohibition on viewpoint discrimination and government censorship of free speech. The school district's attorney responded by denying the allegations and assuring Liberty Counsel that the students could pray but insisting the superintendent had the right to decide there would be no speaker at graduation. Liberty Counsel, now representing Underwood and Griffith, refused to accept the compromise solution of prayer but no speaker. The school district relented and allowed the student-initiated prayer and the student-selected speaker. Underwood gave an invocation and Griffith's remarks included references to his heroes, including Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jesus Christ, and encouraged the graduates to do worthwhile things that mattered because their lives are valuable gifts from God.
It is a shame that school officials continue to make it difficult for students to commemorate their graduations with an acknowledgement of God. Rather than being an alien to the Constitution, religious speech is a preeminent freedom.