July/August 2019 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

Officials at a Pennsylvania school district dropped support for a religious service and ended official prayer during its high school graduation ceremony after receiving a letter from Americans United’s Legal Department.

The Greencastle-Antrim High School had for years been working with a local ministerial group to organize a baccalaureate service and was promoting it through school channels. Officials moved to make the event entirely private after receiving AU’s letter. They also decided to replace a prayer during the graduation ceremony with a moment of silence.

Superintendent Kendra Trail told the Hagerstown, Md., Herald-Mail that district officials consulted with their legal counsel and decided to turn the baccalaureate over to the Greencastle-Antrim Ministerium.

“I feel that our attorney does agree with what we’ve done,” Trail said. “We’ve done our best to make sure we’re following the law, but also providing the opportunity for people to have a moment of silence to reflect the way they individually would like to do so.”

The district’s former superintendent, Greg Hoover, told the newspaper the district had a long tradition of helping to organize the baccalaureate. He also implied that the district’s leaders knew they were engaging in a legally dubious action but continued until they were called on it.

“Technically, we couldn’t, but it was much easier with the school district helping out,” Hoover said. “That’s why we always did it that way.”

Hoover added, “I know that’s always been the law, and we’ve always gotten around it, in effect, because it is our community. We did it because we could and we did. It’s a growing community. We do have people who have different and many religious beliefs. ... I think it’s best for everybody to be honest. Personally, I believe that’s what the Constitution wants us to do, and I’m fine with that. I’m also fine, as a Christian, with making sure this tradition continues.”

AU attorneys wrote to district officials about the matter earlier this year after receiving a complaint from a community member.