Public school officials should resist Religious Right pressure to include prayer in graduation ceremonies, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State. In a letter and legal memorandum sent to school administrators in all 50 states, the religious liberty watchdog organization said organized religious worship at public school events is unconstitutional under a long line of Supreme Court church-state rulings.
Americans United Legal Director Steven K. Green warned that Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice and other Religious Right legal aid groups are distributing "misleading and inaccurate" information on the subject. The ACLJ and other allied groups claim that schools may allow graduating seniors to vote on whether to choose a classmate to lead prayers. (The advice is based on Jones v. Clear Creek Independent School District, a 1993 Federal Appeals Court decision from Texas.)
However, Green said the Jones decision is not in keeping with the Supreme Court's 1993 Lee v. Weisman decision and other rulings that bar state-sponsored prayer at graduation and other public school events. "The Constitution mandates that decisions on religious worship be left to the individual and not be subject to majority vote," Green observed.
Graduation prayer remains a hot issue around the country. In five states — New Jersey, Idaho, Texas, Florida, and Tennessee — federal lawsuits are ongoing. In addition, state legislatures have debated the role of prayer at graduation ceremonies and other public school events. Six states — Georgia, Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and Tennessee — have approved bills on the subject. The issue has been debated in at least three other states and the District of Columbia.