The Riverside School District in Lake City, Arkansas, has canceled its 6th-grade graduation ceremony after a parent protested over the inclusion of Christian prayer in the festivities. After officials received a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on the behalf of the parent, the event was canceled.
Parents who revere the traditional ceremony found themselves surprised and frustrated by the development. One parent, Kelly Adams, said that prayer had never been an issue before and that the cancellation has some people in the district very upset.
"As Christians and a mainly Christian town I think, there were a lot of people hurt that our rights were taken away," Adams told KAIT-TV. "My daughter graduated last year from 6th grade and my son is graduating this year from 6th grade, and we had a pastor open our ceremony and my daughter actually closed the ceremony in prayer."
While parents understand that the district made the best decision it could at the time, she also decried the notion that rights would be taken away from Christian parents and afforded to non-believers.
But Adams claims that all hope isn't lost. Rather than accept no graduation ceremony for their 6th graders, parents have another plan. They are getting together this week to find a church where the event can still be held. Collectively, they plan to host their own version of the graduation -- and it's open to everyone, regardless of belief -- so that student achievement can be properly recognized, KAIT-TV reports.
"We are including everyone, everyone is invited, we want everyone to come and be a part of it," Adams continued. "We're not trying to be pushy or ugly to anybody, we just want them to know there is a God who loves them."
Starnes reports that it was the Freedom of Religion Foundation (FFRF), a church-state separatist group, that sent a letter to officials. It's unclear if two separate letters were sent by the ACLU and the FFRF, but this would not be the first time that the two groups have intervened simultaneously on a First Amendment issue.
"It makes no difference how many families want prayer or wouldn’t be offended by prayer at their graduation ceremony," FFRF attorney Patrick Elliott wrote in his letter to the Riverside School District. "The Supreme Court has settled this matter -- school graduations must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students."
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