Federal Judge Rules Against School-Mandated Prayer at Kentucky High School Graduation Ceremony

Affiliate: ACLU of Kentucky
May 19, 2006 12:00 am

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LOUISVILLE, KY – The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky announced today that U.S. District Judge Joseph H. McKinley, Jr. has issued a temporary restraining order to prevent Russell County High School from including prayer during its graduation ceremony tonight.

“This case is not about whether people can or should pray; it’s about families and individuals deciding for themselves whether, when, and how to pray,” said Lili S. Lutgens, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Kentucky. “Our founders intended that these religious decisions be made by individuals and families, not the government.”

The ACLU of Kentucky sought the order Tuesday on behalf of a Russell County senior who believes that the planned prayers would have been an unconstitutional endorsement of religion and of specific religious views by the school.

Students who want to pray are free to organize a private, religious baccalaureate service before or after graduation, Lutgens said, but including prayers in the official graduation ceremony is a violation of the First Amendment’s prohibition against government-sponsored religion.

The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down the inclusion of clergy-led prayer at public school graduations and student-led prayer at school sporting events. “The Constitution forbids the state to exact religious conformity from a student as the price of attending her own high school graduation,” the Court wrote in its 1992 Lee v. Weisman decision.

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