Brave Atheist Students Stop ‘Student-Led’ Graduation Prayers at Kentucky High School

Lincoln County High School in Kentucky is one of those schools where administrators, knowing that the majority of students are Christian, let students vote on whether or not they want a prayer during their graduation ceremony. Guess what? They usually want one.

This year, though, six students decided they didn’t want to put up with it, so they spoke to their principal about the potential constitutional violation at hand and got the policy changed:

Bradley Chester, a graduating senior, is an atheist and one of the students who approached [Principal Tim] Godbey about not having prayer at graduation.

“I feel like you shouldn’t force your religion upon anybody,” Chester said in an interview with WKYT in Lexington. “And a lot of people are saying if there are prayers at graduation, you don’t have to participate, you can sit there and not listen, close your ears. Well, one, it’s my graduation. I shouldn’t have to close my ears.

This is a place for school, not a church. I feel like I’m graduating from Lincoln County High, not Lincoln County Church.

I call these students brave because, in a predominantly Christian area, they’re stll willing to put themselves on the line and risk becoming social pariahs for the sake of doing the right thing.

That doesn’t mean that other students can’t pray on their own, obviously, and it won’t stop other speakers from mentioning God in a speech, as the Class President noted:

Jonathan Hardwick, president of the class of 2013 who will speak at graduation, told WKYT “the school can’t stop me” if he wants to pray during the commencement ceremony.

There’s a Class President for you, one who cares to represent only the Christian students.

The school board and administration are, to their credit, not fighting the atheists… though they’re not exactly supporting them either. Their response is mostly: We wish we didn’t have to follow the law, but you know, those damn atheists…:

Board of Education member Theresa Long acknowledged in a Facebook post that she has fielded many phone calls and emails about the issue.

“I am here to set the story straight about this situation,” Long wrote. “There is a law mandated by the federal government that we cannot pray or force prayer on anyone! The students have voted each year, and this year there happened to be students voting against prayer during graduation. It is not LCHS, it is not the board, it is a law! Yes, this saddens me. I also understand that with freedom of speech, prayer could be incorporated by that speaker!”

Long is sad because she isn’t able to foist her religion on the entire audience, because that’s really the purpose of a graduation ceremony…

Part of the reason the school may not be putting up a fight is because this “not praying” thing will only happen this year. If they have their way, “student-led” prayer will return after these rabble-rousers graduate:

The principal said officials have not pondered what to do at future graduation ceremonies, as it would be up to the Class of 2014 and subsequent graduating classes.

This shouldn’t be put to popular vote. The school board knows damn well that the students will vote to pray to Jesus every year — so their hands are hardly clean. The formal part of the ceremony should be secular, this year and every year.

(Thanks to Melody for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.