Exeter High School Puts Graduation Prayer to a Vote

A couple weeks ago, Greenwood High School in Indiana put a graduation prayer to a vote. The majority of students voted “yes” to prayer, so that settled it, right?

Of course not. You can’t vote on whether or not to follow the law.

Greenwood students must have failed their own Government classes.

A judge put an injunction on the prayer:

U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker late Friday issued a preliminary injunction against Greenwood High School, which had planned the prayer at its May 28 commencement.

The lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana claimed the prayer and a senior class vote approving it unconstitutionally subjected religious practice to majority rule.

Barker’s ruling says the vote to allow the prayer and the prayer itself violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

It’s been a couple weeks, and history has already repeated itself in California.

The Exeter High School school board has decided to let students vote on whether or not a student can deliver a graduation prayer.

Exeter High School’s class of 2010 will vote any day now, and early indications are that it’ll pass easily.

A petition that students gave the school board Wednesday in support of the traditional invocation was signed by 167 seniors, according to school board member Marlene Sario. The graduating class has 225 students.

By handing off the decision to the senior class, the school board was looking for a way to bypass legal prohibitions, Sario said.

“I’m tired of being told, ‘We can’t do, we can’t do, we can’t do,’ ” she said.

The trustees weren’t trying to pass the buck though, Sario said. Board members were told that case law permits student prayer — when students vote for it.

Who the hell is giving them legal advice?!

You cannot vote on whether or not to follow the law.

And, again, I question whether students comprehend the problem here. Just look at what this atheist student says:

“I’m an atheist, but I don’t care if people want to pray around me,” said Diego Lara, 18. “I’m voting for the prayer.”

(Who knew S.E. Cupp had a high school doppelgänger?)

This is a lawsuit waiting to happen. (I’ve already brought it to FFRF’s attention and they’re looking into it.)

Brandon Wright, who works at Church of God of Exeter and was at the meeting, said people are upset over the idea of substituting prayer with a moment of silence.

“Anyone who believes in prayer has the right to say a prayer under the First Amendment, and I think people should stand up and say it,” he said.

If anyone wants to pray at graduation, they’re welcome to. No one should stop them. I support their right to pray.

But this issue is about making a prayer an official part of the graduation ceremony. That’s illegal at public schools.

Smarter administrators would know that.

(Thanks to Erik for the link)

  • Justice Has No God

    Lawsuit or not, making prayer a standardized part of the graduation ceremony is inappropriate. The collective pressure on secular persons is inappropriate. No one is making them reject their belief in god, why are they compelled to be left out in the open as they don’t bow their heads in conformity.

  • http://yetanotheratheist.net Yet Another Atheist

    I LOVE the S.E. Cupp reference. I don’t get her at all.

  • http://chaoskeptic.blogspot.com Iason Ouabache

    Someone needs to explain to these people very slowly that something being popular doesn’t mean that it is Constitutional.

  • http://atheistreadsbible.blogspot.com/ Jude

    According to my assistant principal, it *is* legal to have a prayer at graduation. He said it was okay to have our kids vote on it because they plan the entire graduation ceremony (which is bunk). I told him “There’s the text of the law and the spirit of the law, and when you only care about the text and you look for wiggle room around it to make a majority happy at the expense of a minority, you’re in the wrong.” These are the links I sent him: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/religionandschools/prayer_guidance.html

    http://www.aclu.org/religion-belief/your-right-religious-freedom

    http://www.aclu.org/religion-belief/joint-statement-current-law-religion-public-schools

    http://www.aclu.org/religion-belief/joint-statement-current-law-religion-public-schools

  • Epistaxis

    (Who knew S.E. Cupp had a high school doppelgänger?)

    She’s a grown-up?!

  • Richard Wade

    Exeter is in California’s Central Valley, which means it might as well be in the deep South as far as complete ignorance about the First Amendment and how it protects their freedom.

    These bumpkins blithely take their freedom to practice their faith for granted, and only see the law of the land as an impediment to what they want. Like spoiled children, they want the law’s protection but none of the responsibility. But they’ll be the first to regret it if they ever manage establish their Tyranny of the Majority in anything broader than their silly little Class of 2010.

    Freedom is lost when naive fools trade it for selfish gain.

  • Franco

    I’m always startled by these types of stories. I’ve been to graduations for myself and my four sisters and there’s always prayer. It never occurred to me that some schools didn’t have prayers at their graduation ceremonies. It just seemed like part of the package: caps, gowns, diplomas, prayers; can’t have one without the others.

    These stories are like watching a king on trial. It seems unthinkable until it happens, then it seems inevitable.

  • plutosdad

    “I’m tired of being told, ‘We can’t do, we can’t do, we can’t do,’ ” she said

    Poor lawbreakers, tired of being told to follow the law! That really sucks, I wonder how well this whining will work for other crimes?

    I am going to tell the next cop that pulls me over “I didn’t hurt anybody. I’m tired of being told I can’t drive how I want”

  • Darrell Curtis

    This has already been decided by the Supreme Court and is legal.

  • Senior 2010

    I am a senior at Exeter High right now. Cases prove that the Supreme Coart has decided it is unconstitutional to have a “clergy lead” prayer, but they have not said it is unconstitutional to have a “student-lead” prayer. It has also been decided that having the students vote is unconstitutional because it leaves the minority at the mercy of the majority. This is America! We are a democracy! This is how our whole country is run. It isn’t fair to say we cannot vote. No laws are going to be broken. If there is a prayer, those who do not wish to participate do not have to. If there is a moment of silence, those who chose to pray can pray. But I can PROMISE that we will not go silently.

  • ich_liebe_Brecht

    See: Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe (2000) and Abington School District v. Schempp (1963). The case law is there, and in more cases than that. Democracy in society does not equal voting so that one may trample on the existing interpretation of the law. It’s just that simple.

  • Senior 2010

    Well no matter what the board decides, there will be a prayer. The Christians cannot be stopped from praying out loud during the moment of silence. And the whole town is backing us up. Even the few athiests at our school are in favor of the prayer because they know they simply don’t have to participate. They cool and respectful about it and don’t get their panties in a wad because the majority want a prayer of blessing.

  • 2000Alum

    I graduated from Exeter 10 years ago. I was Christian at the time so the prayer didn’t seem out of place. The community there is held together by its faith and the church is the place where teens can be social together. Of COURSE the students will vote for the prayer. It would seem odd to not have it for a community like that.

    But that still doesn’t make it right.
    And it sure as heck doesn’t make it legal.

    I wish that the religious people of Exeter would stop and really put themselves into the shoes of someone of another (or no) religion. How would they feel if they were in the minority and instead some different religious rites were read aloud at their graduation? Ceremony that has nothing to do with them, has nothing to do with public schooling and also, perhaps, offends them a little because they do not happen to believe as a majority believes?

    Freedom of speech allows people to pray openly, as long as they do not intrude on the freedom of another person to not be required to be subjected to that prayer.

  • Nihilite

    this whole thing is stupid, who cares? let them pray, they always have, why all of the sudden does it matter? no one is forcing you to join. dont you think if this was such a huge deal it would have been addressed and handled by this point?

  • Diann Smith

    In response to “Richard Wade” above, as a “bumpkin” who has lived in Exeter for more than eight years and happens to have a senior at Exeter High School graduating this evening, I can tell you that we do NOT take our freedom to practice our faith for granted. Few Christians do in this country anymore, thanks to people like you. Christians are the ONLY religious group in America whom it is evidently OK to bash in the courts and in the mainstream media. There would be a backlash if it were any other religious group.

    As for us “bumpkins” here in Exeter, we will stand united this evening reciting The Lord’s Prayer together during the “moment of silence”…hundreds of us, maybe more. Come watch us. Bring your video cameras. Watch us NOT taking our freedom to practice our faith for granted!

  • KevinM

    ^Oh please, freedom of free exercise does NOT mean you must have prayer time set aside for you. How incredibly disrespectful of you to speak during a moment of silence! Can you not pray silently? That is free exercise, respects the moment of silence, and respects EVERYONE around you. Those who practice other religions aren’t “bashed in courts” because they don’t demand unequal privilege. Muslims, Hindus, Jews, etc. understand that they are in the minority and it’s not fair to ask for a special right over others. The difference with atheists is that we aren’t asking for favor over others, rather that we are all on equal footing. If I demanded that the students vote on saying “there are no gods” at graduation, it would be wrong. But that’s not what I would do, I prefer a _neutral_ setting. That protects your freedom of free exercise (you may pray to yourself, or before or after) and everyone’s religious freedom.


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