A Kentucky high school has long had a tradition of offering a prayer at the senior’s graduation. This year though the principal was asked by several students — at least one an atheist — that the prayer be omitted.
Despite opposition, the graduation at Lincoln County High School in Stanford Friday included the prayer, getting a standing ovation and a resounding “Amen” from the audience, according to the Advocate-Messenger.
Class of 2013 President Jonathan Hardwick delivered the prayer, but before beginning he says “if you would like to join me,” inviting those present to choose to pray with him or not.
Here’s Hardwick’s prayer taken with the cellphone of an audience member:
The Advocate-Messenger reported speaking with Principal Tim Godbey earlier this month where he said six students approached him about not including the prayer. Godbey’s reason for allowing it is that laws don’t prevent students from praying as long as they’re not disruptive.
Some in favor of the prayer being read also held a demonstration outside the ceremony with Kentucky State Police present.
The Advocate-Messenger reported Danville resident Ricky Smith, an atheist who has advocated against public prayer before, saying the church groups being outside “makes non-Christian students as well as their family members and friends feel uncomfortable and even threatened.”
In the past, Smith tried to get Danville City Commission to hold a moment of silence at its meetings instead of prayers. The commission ultimately upheld continuing the prayer but is keeping it non-denominational. In protest of this decision, the Advocate-Messenger reported Smith and others now walk out of the prayer portion of these meetings and that he did the same and Lincoln’s graduation ceremony.
Smith plans on reporting the school graduation’s prayer to the American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
“Every student should feel safe at their graduation and should not have to worry about religious bullying,” Smith said, according to the Advocate-Messenger.
One of the students who objected to the prayer, Bradley Chester, told WKYT earlier this month that religion shouldn’t be forced upon people in the form of public prayer.
“And a lot of people are saying if there are prayers at graduation, you don’t have to participate, you can sit there and not listen, close your ears. Well, one, it’s my graduation. I shouldn’t have to close my ears,” Chester remarks.