September 2012 Church & State | AU Bulletin

A New York middle school student does not have a constitutional right to recite a prayer from the Bible during a graduation ceremony, Americans United told a federal appeals court recently.

The case, A.M. ex rel. McKay v. Taconic Hills Central School District, involves a student, identified in court papers as A.M., who wanted to close her middle school graduation speech with a prayer taken from the Old Testament. When school district officials declined to allow the girl to recite the passage, she sued.

A federal district court already rejected the suit, which is now before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. 

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed June 29, Americans United pointed out that federal courts have ruled repeatedly that the Constitution prohibits public schools from sponsoring or promoting prayer and other acts of worship. The brief also notes that A.M.’s goal was to spread a specific religious message.

In her deposition, she recounted studying the Bible at church and noted that some students in her class did not believe in Jesus.

“[I]t’s my job to talk about God and see if they like it,” A.M. remarked. “In God’s word, it says that I should – well, I was put on this Earth for a purpose and my purpose was to talk about God and try to get as many people to follow Him….”

Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director for Americans United, told The Christian Post­­­­, "One of our organization's goals is to protect public school students from school-supported proselytization in the school environment. Students have the right to pray privately, on their own, during the school day. But students do not have a right to impose their religious views upon captive audiences of other students and parents at public school events."