A Pennsylvania School District Was Right To Reject Student’s Graduation Prayer

Todd Starnes, the Fox News propagandist who has to make up stories of Christian persecution since real ones never exist, shared a story yesterday about a high school student in Pennsylvania who was forbidden from thanking Jesus during graduation.

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Moriah Bridges, a member of the 2017 graduating class, was asked to provide what they call the closing exercise at Beaver High School’s graduation on June 2.

She crafted a lovely prayer that mentioned her “Heavenly Father” and her “Lord.”

“Lord, surround us with grace and favor everywhere we go,” she prayed. “Soften our hearts to teach us love and compassion, to show mercy and grace to others the way that you showed mercy and grace to us, even to the ultimate sacrifice. Help us love our brothers and our sisters deeply. Lead us to bless them.”

Unfortunately, Moriah was not permitted to deliver that prayer — thanks to the Beaver Area School District.

On May 31, the district notified the teenager that her prepared remarks were unlawful, unconstitutional, and therefore, impermissible.

The District did the right thing here. If they’re in the business of pre-approving graduation speeches, and Bridges wanted to give a Christian prayer, this would essentially be a District-sanctioned sermon. That’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.

(When can students get away with what Moriah did? When the District doesn’t see their speeches in advance.)

Not that Starnes cares about the nuance here.

The principal flat-out told the young lady that prayer — even student-led prayer — is not permissible by federal law.

This wasn’t student-led prayer. This would have been a District-approved speech.

Seriously, this isn’t difficult to understand. Starnes refuses to acknowledge the difference because his job requires him to pretend Christians are under attack.

And Starnes has help from First Liberty Institute attorney Jeremy Dys:

“In short, school officials — in violation of the First Amendment — forced Moriah to censor her personal remarks during the closing exercise of her commencement ceremony merely because of the religious viewpoint of her remarks,” the attorney said. “Because of Dr. [Carrie] Rowe’s instructions, Moriah was muzzled and restrained by school officials on the penultimate day of her high school career.”

Dys is calling for a meeting with school officials — but so far they have not responded.

They don’t have to. They did nothing wrong. And Dys needs to go back to law school since he doesn’t understand the very issue he’s supposed to be an expert in.

Superintendent Carrie Rowe even acknowledged all this in a statement. And unlike Dys, she had the legal facts to back her position up.

Students who speak at graduation, including the valedictorian and class president, know that the District will review their remarks in advance, and the District assumes responsibility for the content. In Moriah’s case, the District could not approve a speech written as a prayer, but did approve a second version that she submitted.

As Superintendent, I took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and of this Commonwealth. The District’s solicitor has advised us that the law clearly states that prayer is not permitted at graduation ceremonies, even if it is student-led. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2000 involving Sante Fe Independent School District held that school officials may not permit ‘a teacher, faculty member, member of the clergy, or student to deliver any sort of prayer, invocation, or benediction at public school-sponsored events, including graduations.

See? Not complicated. Unless you work for a conservative group that raises money by convincing donors you’re fighting on behalf of persecuted Christians everywhere.

(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Jay 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.