School Will Not Have Prayer At Graduation

May 14, 2009

Author: Staff Writer

Source: Chillicothe Gazette

Southeastern High School graduates will not have a clergyperson delivering an invocation and benediction at their ceremony.

Superintendent Brian Justice explained Wednesday he and the board are not anti-prayer, but are obliged to follow the law.

"We will not violate the laws ... (I and) my board of education believe in prayer, but we're not for violating the law. Are we happy about it? No," Justice said.

Issues over the school's tradition were raised by senior Jacob Davis, a practicing Wiccan, who felt the prayer violated the law and provisions for the separation of church and state. Davis issued his concerns through a letter to the editor to the Chillicothe Gazetteabout two weeks ago before speaking with administrators, Justice said.

Last week, the school received a letter from a staff attorney for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, informing the district it was in violation of the law. Justice consulted the district's attorney, who affirmed the district could not order anyone to have prayer or ask a clergyperson to speak.

Instead, a student will conduct the opening and closing statements at the ceremony, but Justice said he does not know what that student or students intend to say. The valedictorian and salutatorian also will speak. Although Justice said principal Leonard Steyer provides students speaking guidelines, Justice will not see the speeches beforehand.