Jun 29, 2011

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has asked officials at a Texas school district to stop sponsoring prayers during high school graduation ceremonies.

Two high schools within the Klein Independent School District — Klein High School and Klein Collins High School — included invocations and benedictions at their June 4 graduation ceremonies. In both cases, these prayers were scheduled parts of the ceremony.

“Graduation is an important rite of passage for young people and all students should feel welcome regardless of their views about religion,” said Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan. “It’s a matter of simple fairness and decency for school officials to recognize that we live in a diverse society and to include everyone.

“In addition,” Khan continued, “the law is absolutely clear on this issue. Public school officials offer students a poor model of citizenship when they flout the Constitution and the plain rulings of the Supreme Court.”

In a letter to school officials today, AU’s attorneys advised that inclusion of prayers at commencement violates Supreme Court precedent.

The high court ruled in 1992 in Lee v. Weisman that public schools may not impose prayer and or other forms of religious worship on students and their families during graduation.

In 2000, the high court ruled against school-sanctioned student-led prayers before football games in a Texas case called Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe.

Americans United’s letter asks the district to establish a policy that respects the rights of all students and discontinues prayer at future graduation ceremonies. A response within 30 days has been requested.

Khan said she encourages families in the community to contact Americans United if they share AU’s concern about this issue.

The letter was drafted by AU’s Khan and Staff Attorney Ian Smith.