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Public Prayers at High School Graduations

Prayers may violate the First Amendment.

Key point. Student-initiated and led prayers at public high school graduation ceremonies may violate the first amendment's nonestablishment of religion clause, even if the senior class votes in favor of a prayer and a notice is placed in graduation programs informing attendees that the prayer is not endorsed by the school.

A federal appeals court ruled that a graduating senior could not recite a prayer at a public high school graduation ceremony, even though the senior class voted to include the prayer. A public high school adopted a policy allowing the senior class to conduct a poll of the graduating class to determine whether it wanted "a prayer, a moment of silence, or nothing at all" to be included in the graduation ceremony. The senior class elected to include a prayer, and a graduating senior was selected to give the prayer. School policy mandated that a disclaimer be printed ...

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Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

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  • May 1, 1997

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