For decades, the country has been divided on whether or not to allow prayer at public school events.
Now the issue has moved centerstage in Opp, Ala.
Last month, Opp High School included an optional baccalaureate service —a Christianity-based interdenominational celebration that honors a graduating senior class — in its graduation festivities where school principal, Aaron Hightower, led seniors in prayer and delivered a speech referencing God.
In response, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which touts itself as the nation’s largest educational atheist organization working to keep religion and government separate, sent a a letter to Opp City Schools asking them to “to cease endorsing religion in its future graduation activities” and to ensure that no prayers are scheduled for future high school graduation ceremonies.
“Opp City Schools has a legal duty to remain neutral toward religion. It makes no difference how many students want religious speeches or wouldn’t be offended by them at their graduation,” wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover. “A graduation should be a celebration for all students, not an exercise in alienating nonreligious students with a Christian message.”
FFRF claims “by scheduling graduation prayers and a baccalaureate, the school district has failed to comply with constitutional law.” FFRF advises that Opp City Schools avoid similar legal breaches of the First Amendment going forward.
“High school graduations should honor the students, not a religion,” added FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.