Indiana High School Sued Over Graduation Prayer

Saturday, March 13, 2010
Graduation SpeechImage by alykat via Flickr
Sooner or later school districts will start paying attention and stop getting themselves into these un-winnable lawsuits. However, I think it is more apt to be later.

From the Indiana Star.

Greenwood High School faces suit over prayer
Greenwood High let seniors cast ballots on graduation practice
By Jon Murray
Posted: March 12, 2010

Greenwood High School honor student who learned in class about court rulings striking down school prayer has found a real-world application -- his own graduation ceremony. Eric Workman's lawsuit, filed Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, challenges the high school's practice of allowing seniors to vote on whether to have a student-led prayer at graduation.

ACLU attorney Ken Falk said allowing the vote and even having the prayer run afoul of U.S. Supreme Court rulings that found prayers at public school-sponsored events to violate the First Amendment.

"This is particularly egregious when it's coming from a student who's going to be sitting on the stage," Falk said.

Workman, 18, is ranked first in his class, the lawsuit says. He declined to be interviewed, but Falk said Workman approached the ACLU because he found the practice troubling in light of what he's learned in government classes.

Greenwood Schools Superintendent David Edds said a student-approved prayer has been a long-standing feature at graduation.

Controversy over school prayer has faded from the forefront since the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in 2000 that a Texas high school could not allow students to deliver prayers over the public address system at football games.

Eight years earlier, the Supreme Court held in a 5-4 decision that a public school could not offer a prayer at graduation.
Avon High School attracted attention in 2004 when it decided to forgo an invocation after the ACLU threatened a lawsuit.

The high court's decisions leave little wiggle room, but many schools have tried to accommodate prayer in other ways, often by allowing moments of silence.

According to the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, some schools, particularly in the South, are treading in murkier waters by allowing students to elect graduation speakers who can address nearly any topic, including religion, as long as the students don't vote on whether to have a prayer.

In Greenwood's case, the vote was about a prayer. Edds said the lawsuit was a surprise to him and that the school's principal, Jim Kaylor, has not yet announced the outcome or whether a prayer would be included this year.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, says the prayer question was on a ballot about several issues that school staff passed out during a mandatory senior assembly in September. Workman learned from an unnamed school employee that a majority of seniors had voted in favor of the prayer, the lawsuit says, though some students dissented.

"Through this election scheme," the suit says, "the defendants have established a forum, in the school itself, for religious debate and have subjected religious practice to a majority vote."The lawsuit names the school district and the school's principal as defendants.

The Rev. Shan Rutherford, pastor of Greenwood Christian Church for more than three decades, said he disagrees with the proposition that such a prayer would violate a student's rights.

"If I lived in a Muslim nation, a Hindu nation or anything else, I would expect to go along with the majority," Rutherford said. "He's trying to go with minority rule. To me, that's wrong in a democracy, one that was founded on Christian principles."

"If you don't agree, I don't think you should try to stop other people from exercising their rights."

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