ACLU Sues PA School District to Stop Official Prayers at Graduation and School Board Meetings

May 26, 2005 12:00 am

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PITTSBURGH — The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit today against the Keystone School District in Clarion County asking a federal court for an immediate order prohibiting school officials from allowing prayers at tomorrow’s graduation ceremony and from continuing to open school board meetings with a sectarian prayer.

“When public schools reserve time at a graduation ceremony for prayers, they put the power, prestige and endorsement of the state behind whatever prayer is offered,” said ACLU of Pennsylvania Legal Director Witold Walczak, who is representing families who have asked to remain anonymous because of fears for their physical safety. “Officially sponsored prayers make students and invited guests who subscribe to different beliefs and recite different prayers, or no prayers at all, feel like outcasts or second-class citizens.”

The school district, located in western Pennsylvania, has in past years included an invocation and benediction led by a teacher at the graduation ceremony. Additionally, school board meetings open with the superintendent leading other board members and the audience in a prayer that references Jesus.

The ACLU sent a letter to the district on April 29, 2005, asking that it agree to stop the religious practices at both graduation ceremonies and board meetings. In a May 10 response, the district’s solicitor indicated that the school agreed to the request. In recent days, however, the School Board President was quoted in the media saying that he was looking for a way around the agreement. Additionally, local religious leaders and community members have been pressuring the school district to keep the prayers.

Walczak said that these factors led to the decision to file today’s lawsuit. “We need some binding legal document to ensure that the district will keep its promise to remove the prayers from graduation and school board meetings,” he said. The district has signed a consent decree agreeing to stop the unconstitutional religious practices and the document will be presented to a judge today for signature.

The case is Doe v. Keystone School District. The complaint filed by the ACLU can be found online at

The demand letter sent by the ACLU can be found online at

The temporary restraining order can be found online at

The consent decree by the school can be found online at

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