Protecting Commencement Prayer

, Mathew D. Staver, Leave a comment

The “Friend or Foe” Graduation Prayer Campaign was launched today by Mat Staver, the Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, and Dr. Jerry Falwell, the Founder and Chancellor of Liberty University. The concept behind the campaign is similar to the successful Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign announced by Staver and Falwell last year.

The Friend or Foe Graduation Prayer Campaign will educate, and if necessary, litigate to ensure that prayer and religious viewpoints are not censored from graduation. Liberty Counsel’s free legal memo outlines the current law. Liberty Counsel will defend any school that follows the law. When school officials censor prayer or religious speech, Liberty Counsel will file suit.

If a speaker is chosen using religious-neutral criteria, and if school officials do not edit the speaker’s message or religious viewpoints, then the school is on safe ground. Thus, if a valedictorian, salutatorian, class officer or class representative delivers a message, the speaker is free to include religious themes and can voluntarily pray. The same principle holds true when an adult from outside the school speaks at graduation. Private, voluntary speech on public property is constitutionally protected.

Liberty Counsel has been defending graduation prayer since Staver founded the group in 1989. In Adler v. Duval County School Board, Liberty Counsel won the right of students to pray or give religious messages during graduation. The case went before a federal court of appeals five times (twice before a panel of 12 judges), and to the U.S. Supreme Court twice. The precedent-setting case against the ACLU established the legal principle that public schools are safe when they adopt an equal access policy for graduation where students or other speakers may present either secular or religious messages, including prayer.

Public schools may also hold graduation at religious sites such as churches if the reason for doing so is religious-neutral. One such reason is that the religious venue provides a more convenient or accommodating facility than the public school. Conversely, private persons or groups may rent public school facilities to conduct privately-sponsored graduation or baccalaureate ceremonies. In privately-sponsored ceremonies, the speakers may be chosen for the express purpose of delivering prayer or religious speeches.

Commenting on the campaign, Staver said: “Speakers do not lose their rights to free speech when they approach the graduation podium. If schools tell graduates they cannot pray now, they will pay later. The National Day of Prayer recognizes that our country was founded on prayer. Public schools should respect our national heritage and obey our Constitution.”

“I encourage graduates and speakers all across this nation to pray and to give thanks to God. If a problem arises, call Liberty Counsel,” Dr. Falwell said. “We have hundreds of lawyers ready to spring into action.”

Mat Staver is founder and chairman of the Liberty Counsel. The Liberty Counsel, headquartered in Orlando, Florida, is a nonprofit litigation, education and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the traditional family. On the campus of Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty Counsel’s Center for Constitutional Litigation and Policy trains attorneys, law students, policymakers, legislators, clergy and world leaders in constitutional principles and government policies.