Rutherford Institute has issued guidelines for constitutionally permissible
ways to incorporate prayer and religious expression into graduation ceremonies
without violating the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, as
well as certain practices that should be avoided. “The Ten Commandments
of Graduation Prayer” is available at www.rutherford.org.
“There is a great amount of confusion over what can
and can’t be done concerning prayer and religious expression at
graduation ceremonies,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The
Rutherford Institute. “Neither prayer nor religious references are
unconstitutional at such ceremonies. That is why The Rutherford Institute has
issued guidelines in the hopes that our public schools will not censor students
who wish to commemorate the occasion through prayer or other forms of religious
speech or expression.”
As parents, students, teachers and school officials prepare
for commencement exercises; questions continue to be raised regarding what role
prayer is allowed to play during graduation ceremonies. Unfortunately, despite
court rulings that have attempted to discern between students free speech
rights and the Constitution’s prohibition of a government establishment
of religion, there remains a great deal of confusion about the rights of
students and speakers at graduation ceremonies. In issuing “The Ten
Commandments of Graduation Prayer” guidelines, Rutherford Institute
attorneys point out that there are constitutionally who have been selected to
speak at a graduation ceremony may voluntarily pray as long as the ceremony is
planned and organized by the student body independent of school officials.
However, school officials do cross the constitutional line when the direct,
edit or control the content of a student’s voluntary prayer. Rutheford
Institute attorneys are currently litigating two cases involving censorship at
high school graduation exercises. In the first case, Institute attorneys are
defending high school valedictorian Brittany McComb, whose valedictory speech
was cut short after school officials unplugged the microphone, thereby
preventing her from speaking about the role her Christian belief played in her
success. In the second case, Institute attorneys are defending a member of a
high school musical ensemble that was prohibited from performing an
instrumental arrangement of “Ave Maria” at the school’s
graduation ceremony, allegedly because of other superintendent’s
unfounded concerns about the religious nature of the piece.
Founded in 1982 by constitutional attorney and author John
W. Whitehead, The Rutherford Institute is an international, nonprofit civil
liberties organization committed to defending constitutional and human rights.
Nisha Mohammad is the press contact for The Rutherford Institute.