Students Rebel in Prayer

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In protest to a court order issued hours before the Russell County High School graduation last Friday night, about 200 seniors spontaneously stood and began reciting the Lord’s Prayer, prompting a standing ovation from a standing-room only crowd. The thunderous applause drowned out the last part of the prayer. The revival-like atmosphere continued when senior Megan Chapman said in her opening remarks that God had guided her since childhood. Megan was interrupted repeatedly during her speech by the cheering crowd as she urged her classmates to trust in God as they go through life.

On Friday, May 19, Judge Joseph H. McKinley, Jr., in a short three-sentence temporary restraining order, barred Russell County High School and senior Megan Chapman from including prayer at the graduation scheduled later that day. Liberty Counsel now represents Megan and will request the court to vacate its ruling.

The court’s order is invalid, wrong, and limited. First, the court had no authority to order Megan to refrain from prayer as she was never made a party to the case. Moreover, a temporary restraining order which restricts a person’s speech cannot be issued without first providing the affected person notice and an opportunity to be heard. Second, the court order runs contrary to the best legal precedent established in Adler v. Duval County School Board, a case successfully litigated by Liberty Counsel. Finally, the order was limited because it only addressed prayer. It did not, nor could it, prohibit Megan from thanking God or sharing her religious viewpoint during her speech.

Megan began her speech by saying that God has guided her since she was a child. The students repeatedly interrupted her with applause as she gave thanks to God throughout her message. Megan said the ceremony turned out better than it would have without the controversy. “More glory went to God because of something like that than if I had just simply said a prayer like I was supposed to.”

Anita L. Staver, President of Liberty Counsel, commented: “Students have the right to include religious viewpoints during their graduation speeches. It is inappropriate for a school to censor religious viewpoints from a student’s personal graduation message. Our country was founded upon prayer. Our currency acknowledges God. Our legislatures begin each session with prayer. Our students have the right to voluntarily pray during graduation. It is insensitive and unconstitutional to silence student-initiated, voluntary prayer.”

As part of its Friend or Foe Graduation Prayer Campaign, Liberty Counsel has a legal memo available at which addresses the law regarding graduation prayer.

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.