Students at an Illinois high school are taking action in an effort to stop prayers at their public school’s annual graduation ceremony, according to a secular organization that recently sent a warning letter on their behalf.
Represented by the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center, unnamed students at Norris City-Omaha-Enfield High School in Norris City, Ill., are on a “quest to have the regularly occurring unconstitutional practice stopped,” proclaims a press release from the humanist group.
Representatives for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent the letter to Superintendent Dr. Cliff Karnes and Principal Matt Vollman, claiming that the Supreme Court has made it clear that prayer has no place in public school graduation ceremonies.
The text called invocations a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause and said that students at the school have the right to be “free of religious coercion by the school system.”
A letter sent to school officials on Jan. 22 claimed to serve as an official warning of the school’s “illegal activity” and asked for an official response from the district within two weeks.
“Not only do the graduation prayers place unconstitutional coercive pressure on students to participate in a religious
exercise, but they also have the effect of advancing and endorsing religion,” it read, in part. “The Establishment Clause ‘has long guarded against government conduct that has the effect of promoting religious teachings in school settings, and the case law has evinced special concern with the receptivity of schoolchildren to endorsed religious messages.”
The Appignani Humanist Legal Center went on to call the prayers at Norris City-Omaha-Enfield High School “particularly troubling” because they generally have a Christian focus.
“The school may be sued in federal court for injunctive, declaratory, and monetary relief,” the letter continued, urging the school to “no longer include prayer in … public school graduation ceremonies.”
The school district has not yet responded to these claims and demands.
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