Graduation Prayer - What Can Students Do?

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Public schools will soon be hosting graduation ceremonies for their students. In some communities, student speakers may want to express their faith or even offer a prayer from the podium. Is it legal?

Well, that depends on how it is conducted. Our friends at Alliance Defending Freedom offer this advice for school officials:

Graduation ceremonies have slightly different rules [than privately sponsored baccalaureate ceremonies] because a private speaker (the student) is speaking at a government sponsored event. In the graduation context, we think the following parameters prevent any appearance of “state endorsement” of religion:

  1. School staff cannot influence or select the content of the message that the speaker will deliver;

  2. School staff cannot engage in prior review of the speaker’s message;

  3. A school policy allowing a student message or remarks should use neutral terms and avoid using terms such as prayer, invocation, or benediction; and

  4. The message should be non-sectarian and non-proselytizing.

Following these parameters, the Supreme Court’s “objective observer” can easily conclude that a student-initiated invocation/benediction is by student choice - not by the endorsement or coercion of the school. To ensure that an objective observer is not confused, the school can include a disclaimer in the graduation program that informs the audience that views expressed by the students are not those of the school. This comports with the principle of “educat[ing] the audience rather than squelch[ing] the speaker." [Hills, 329 F.3d at 1055]

Acknowledging God in public speeches has a rich history in America. As the Supreme Court has acknowledged:

“Our history is replete with official references to the value and invocation of Divine guidance in deliberations and pronouncements of the Founding Fathers and contemporary leaders.”  - Lynch v. Donnelly

When students express gratitude toward God it gives an audience refreshing hope for America's future.