May 24, 2007

Americans United for Separation of Church and State says a Texas public school district has left itself open to legal action after ignoring court rulings and including a majority-imposed prayer in its high school graduation ceremonies.

Attorneys with Americans United contacted the Round Rock Independent School District yesterday after members of the community complained about the district’s plan to allow graduating seniors to vote on whether to include a religious invocation.

In a letter to Superintendent Jesus H. Chavez, the members of the school board and the principals of the district’s four high schools, Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan warned that the district’s plan runs afoul of a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court ruling called Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe.

In that case, the high court struck down a public school’s practice of allowing students to vote on having prayers before football games.

“A majority cannot vote to impose prayer or religious worship on a minority,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “The Round Rock Independent School District is knowingly engaging in grossly unconstitutional activities.” Observed Khan in the letter, “We are writing to request you omit the invocations from the upcoming ceremonies, as they are blatantly unconstitutional.” The letter went on to cite not only the Santa Fe case but also several lower court decisions striking down school prayer imposed by majority vote.

Chavez contacted Americans United and said he would not remove prayer from the ceremonies. Three of the high schools are holding graduations today, and one is scheduled for tomorrow.

Khan said AU’s Legal Department has been contacted by Round Rock residents, and she urged others who are concerned about the district’s prayer practice to step forward.

Observed Khan, “It’s not the place of the public school system to provide religious worship for young people. Decisions about religion belong with the parents. Round Rock parents who object to the graduation prayers should contact us.” Khan urged parents or students in the district who are concerned about this matter to call Americans United at (202) 466-3234 or e-mail at

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.