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Atheist Valedictorian's Complaints Lead TX High School to Ban 99-Year Graduation Prayer Tradition


"I know it’s tradition, but tradition isn’t always right."

Mark Reyes

After a church-state separatist group sent a warning notice, Poteet High School in Poteet, Texas, will be scrapping a traditional invocation and benediction that has been part of commencement ceremonies for decades. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an organization that works to segregate religion and government, contacted the Poteet Independent School District after a student complained about the presence of religion in the school's graduation ceremony.

Rather than push forward with the program as scheduled, the district and school cited concerns over legal ramifications and subsequently scrapped the religious elements from the ceremony. As a result, Shelby Martinez, a senior who is speaking at the event, is considering altering her speech to include prayer, seeing as this will no longer be a part of the festivities.

KENS-TV has more:

For the first time in 99 years, graduating seniors at Poteet High School will see a small change in the program: There will be no "invocation" or "benediction."

Instead, those words will be replaced with "opening remarks" and "closing remarks."

The change is in response to a letter the school district received from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

The group requested the high school remove the words from the graduation program.

After other local schools were involved in prayer battles in previous years, the school district inevitably decided to avoid legal drama by making the difficult decision to remove the invocation and benediction. Now here's the really interesting part: The complaint that is allegedly at the center of the decision to remove the religious tenets apparently came from the school's valedictorian -- an atheist.

The Friendly Atheist blog cites Mark Reyes, the individual in question, as the person responsible for the removal of the tradition. "Thanks to his activism, the school will be getting rid of a nearly-100-year-old tradition of reciting invocations and benedictions at the ceremony," the blog reports.

Reyes said made his opinion known in an interview with KABB-TV, saying, "I know it’s tradition, but tradition isn’t always right."

While Pastor Allen Weaver, a local faith leader at First Baptist Church Poteet, isn't upset over the dropping of these elements from the event, he has voiced concern over the loss of traditional prayer. But according to the district, if a student chooses to include prayer in a speech, that is his or her right. Reyes says his main concern is the separation of church and state, although he has no objection to his fellow students raising God's name.

Graduation is scheduled for this Friday evening at 7:30 p.m.

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