Prayer at Graduation Part II

Ed Zotti closed Cessandra’s original Prayer at Graduation thread due to it’s considerable length (hopefully it will be left up for people to read for awhile?).

It was just branching into a subtopic, namely, what if a speaker, such as valedictorian gives an impromptu prayer. Is this a violation of Church/State separation? Does it matter whether the person attempts to lead the group in prayer or just says one?

Of course, comments on Cessandra’s original question are still valid as well.

The last post, by depocali, was:

Rather than repost Cessandra’s original question, I’ll leave that up to her decision.

What an interesting thread (the original, I mean). I have followed it closely. Now, it’s not so hypothetical anymore. Check out And what they did isn’t even unconstitutional. I feel sorry for the poor guy.


No, it is not unconstitutional for a valedictorian to say a prayer. The valedictorian is not acting in any capacity on behalf of the government, so his or her speech is entirely his or her own and is protected. The government may not initiate or support a religious activity, such as a prayer, but it also may not prevent a citizen, acting in his or her private capacity and not on behalf of the government, from engaging in a religious activity that does NOT require government support. Freedom of religion does not mean freedom FROM religion. This question is much easier and clearer-cut, BTW, than Cessandra’s original question, which posited at least some minimal governmental involvement.

Exactly what is it that the advacates of forcing someone to listen to prayer hope to accomplish? Is their relationship to God so shaky that they need to display before an assembly? If you want your god to “bless” your event, all you have to do is ask. One on one.
I don’t think prayer belongs in school functions, any more than Pepsi or Taco Bell commercials. Or military recruitment, for that matter.
Cessandra is absolutely right on this one.

“If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything” Mark Twain 1894

In the example that I cited in my last post, it was not the valedictorian leading a prayer, but rather, a random student from the audience interrupting a mandated moment of silence (which replaced the usual prayed under objection from the ACLU and the student in question). My question is not whether it is unconstitutional or not (I already acknowledged that it is not), or whether it is against the law (it clearly is not), but whether it is right. If some heckler chose to interrupt the moment of silence with a prayer for Satan, I have a feeling things would have been different.


I didn’t read the article you cited in quite the same manner you did, Dude. As I read it, the moment of silence was interrupted by a prayer, but that prayer did not offend the majority of the audience who, to the contrary, joined in. The government (school) did not prompt it or encourage it; it just sort of happened. Would a different result have occurred if someone had interrupted the moment of silence with something calculated to offend the audience, such as a prayer to Satan? Certainly. The audience for sure wouldn’t have joined in; they might have been indignant enough to shut the prayer-er up forcefully. Hey, you exercise your right to free speech in a way calculated to offend a large number of people, you take your chances.

But, as I read the article, the boy didn’t do the interrupting. He merely left the room when the prayer began, so he wasn’t the source of the disturbance. I agree with you that it was a shame that they wouldn’t let him back in; in effect, his choice was to sit through the prayer or forfeit the right to graduate. I think he handled it as well as he could by leaving when the prayer began, and the school’s general policy of not allowing students to reenter an event after leaving is a lame excuse for not letting him rejoin his graduation. But you say:

Whether what is right? The guy reciting the Lord’s prayer? His perogative. The kid leaving? His perogative, and an acceptable, low-key way of demonstrating his disapproval of the prayer. The security guard not letting him back in? No – he should have let him rejoin his graduation.

Jodih and Dude

I am not sure that I agree with your conclusion that what happened in Maryland was constitutional. To me it appears that the school made a pretty transparent end run around the constitution and violated its agreement with the student and the attorney general. Even if we accept that the prayer was “Spontaneous” (Spontaneous my foot!), do we believe that it is generally the school’s policy to allow interuptions during school ceremonies? In any other case, those responsible for the interuption would be silenced and then probably disciplined. The fact that the school allowed this interuption makes it pretty clear that the moment of silence was intended as a moment of spoken prayer.

Look at the following quote and ask yourself, did this person intend to comply with the constitution? "This is a churchgoing community, and no one in Annapolis or Washington,

D.C., is going to tell us when and where we can pray," said Linda

Kelley, president of the Calvert County Commission

I hope that the ACLU and the state attorney general does not allow the school to get away with their maltreatment of Nick Becker and the constitution

EZRA – I have two responses to your take on this: the practical and the legal.

Practically speaking, you apparently feel that once a member of the audience at a graduation starts a prayer that is, assumably, acceptable to the majority of the audience, someone on behalf of the school should . . . What? Shout him down? Forcibly make him stop reciting the Lord’s prayer? I don’t see how this would improve the overall ceremony; indeed, you might find the graduation disintegrating into a melee of various factions shouting at each other. So, as a school official, though you might not have expected or condoned the prayer, you probably would feel that the greater part of valor is to just let it pass and get on with the graduation.

Legally, the government cannot establish or promote religion. This does not mean they have any obligation to stop the establishment or promotion of religion by private citizens – indeed to the contrary, they can’t do that, either. If an individual decides to say a prayer at a graduation, be s/he the valedictorian or a member of the audience, the government has no duty to shut that person up. The prohibition on the establishment of religion applies expressly and ONLY to the government itself. For this reason, your question of whether the individual quoted in the article “intended to comply with the constitution” is an irrelevant one; the constitutional prohibition in question does not apply to private citizens, so what she did or did not do, and her motivations, are under no circumstances unconstitutional. You infer that the school somehow had prior notice of the intention to say the prayer and that it “intended” the moment of silence to be a moment of spoken prayer. I read nothing in the article that would support this inference. But even if the school HAD known about the prayer, as I said above, it had no constitutional obligation to stop it.

I just wanted to answer one question from the last thread:

Please go back and read my posts. I have stated at least twice that I would not in the least be offended by students standing up and deciding they want a prayer. It is the school involvement which offends me.

I think that students who feel a need to parade their Christian beliefs before the eyes of the world should please refer to Matthew 6:5-6

As for the man who interrupted the moment of silence, well, that was just rude and that’s all there is to say about it.

Although I usually am not pleased by what you have to say, I can never find fault with it. You are, of course, correct that there was nothing wrong with the whole situation (except for the refusal to let the kid return). You are also correct that the majority of the audience wanted the prayer to happen, although I still think the interruption of the moment of silence was rude and wrong and is just as offensive to those using the moment of silence for their own meditations (be they religious or not).

My own feeling is that there would be no problems if everyone simply worshipped their deities (or lack thereof) on their own time and did not feel the need to expose them to others. That having been said, there is nothing illegal, or even necessarily wrong, with people exposing their beliefs in such a way. I just find it irritating. Were I in such a position I would have kept my head up and my mouth shut, confident enough in my beliefs to not have to profess them to the world.



Practically, yes I believe that if the school agreed to a moment of silence instead of a prayer, the school should make good on its promise by forcing that decision. If the school had good information that there was to be an “audience led” prayer during the moment of silence, the school should have either stated that this was not acceptable, or cancelled the moment of silence. I’m sure that if someone had used that moment of silence to express any utterance other than a Judeo-Christian prayer they would be silenced. As has been stated many times in the previous thread the fact that the majority was in favor of this prayer is irrelevant.

Legally, if the moment of silence was intended as a back door to allow spoken prayer into the graduation then yes, I believe it is unconstitutional. If the school had a custom of having moments of silence in which it allowed anyone who wished to speak to do so (note the inherent contradiction), and this year the audience happened to fall into prayer, than I would agree it was not unconstitutional. But saying we’re having a moment of (ahem) silence and winking at the prayer is tantamount to prayer in itself, and is especially offensive because the school had agreed not to have a prayer only under pressure from the ACLU and attorney general. It really looks like they were looking for a way to get out of their agreement.

I’m curious to see what the Maryland courts think about this issue.

The reason I included the quote was that I was under the impression that as president of the county commission that women had some influence over the school, or some connection to the school board. At least I was under the impression that her views were those of the school board.

THEDUDE – Oh, stop, I’m blushing. :slight_smile: Seriously, you are most kind, and I appreciate it. I also happen to agree with you entirely.

EZRA – I don’t necessarily disagree with your post either, except to say that I think it is based in large part on assumptions that are not borne out in the article we both allude to. You hypothesize: “If the school had good information that there was to be an ‘audience led’ prayer during the moment of silence…” and “if the moment of silence was intended as a back door to allow spoken prayer into the graduation …” We can come up with a hundred hypotheticals under which a prayer would be unconstitutional, but nothing in the article indicates this particular prayer was unconstitutional. If you disagree with this assessment, please quote to me from the article something that indicates the sort of “winking” complicity you claim the school engaged in.

Member posted 05-28-99 11:32 AM

You’ve stumped me here, MG. Exactly what other legitimate jobs shouldn’t be offered at high school job fairs if you’re going to ban the military from them?

Hey Monty, How about all the other jobs that harrass women and discriminate against homosexuals? The military’s history is spotty at best, and until they clean up their act, banning them from the schools is the only way to go.

“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”
Hunter Thompson

As a teacher of “at-risk” high school students, I’d like to point out that the military offers some excellent opportunities for young people who don’t have the means to attend college or obtain a job with any kind of future.

I think my kids would be the losers if recruters weren’t allowed on campus, not the military.

PapaBear, what do you tell your homosexual students when the recruiters come around?

“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”
Hunter Thompson

I tell them to join the Marines!

Sorry. My reply was a little flip. I work in a city that has the second largest gay population, west of the Mississippi. (Long Beach, CA). We practice a certain “don’t ask don’t tell” in the way we relate to each other here. The sexual preference of my students, is really none of my concern.

That said, I have a female student, who by simple observation, is obviously a lesbian. Since ninth grade her desire has been to join the Marine Corp. She has been to see the recruters and has every expectation of being enlisted after graduation.

She is fully aware of the history of homosexual-exclusion in the military and is prepared to face those challenges when they present themselves.

“You’ve stumped me here, MG. Exactly what other legitimate jobs shouldn’t be offered at high school job fairs if you’re going to ban the military from them?”

No logic intended here, Monty. Just plain old prejudice.
If you accept any other job and find it’s not for you, you’re free to go somewhere else. Without screwing up your life.
They lie to the kids, Monty. With the possible exception of the Marines.
“It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure”

“If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything” Mark Twain 1894