Graduation prayer axed at Shelby County High
PRINCIPAL CITES COMPLAINT FROM STUDENT, CIVIL LIBERTIES ORGANIZATION
SHELBYVILLE – The principal of Shelby County High School said the school will not have formal prayer at graduation exercises next month after receiving a complaint from a student and the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky.
Principal Gary Kidwell met Monday with the Board of Education and a lawyer as residents held a prayer vigil outside. Tuesday, Kidwell said the school will break from the tradition of student-led invocations and benedictions at graduation June 2.
The school “will be compliant with the law and also provide a respectful and dignified program for all students,” he said.
Traditional prayers at a school banquet and an awards ceremony also will not be held, he said.
Last week, a court ordered a Russell County High School student who had been designated to pray at graduation not to do so. Students rose on their own and recited the Lord’s Prayer during the principal’s remarks. The student who had been designated to lead the prayer included religious messages in her remarks to graduates.
Arshiya Saiyed, 17, who is Muslim, identified herself Tuesday as the Shelby County student who filed the ACLU complaint. She said other students share her view, a contention echoed by Kidwell.
Arshiya said she understands that student speakers at Shelby County also might include a prayer in their remarks, but she hopes they will respect her objections to the formal prayer.
“If they choose to pray … we hope it’s a respectful prayer” for a religiously diverse audience, said Arshiya, who plans to study international relations and political science at Centre College and then attend law school.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that student-led prayers at high school football games and clergy-led prayers at high school graduations are unconstitutional.
The Liberty Counsel, a Florida law firm representing the student who spoke at Russell County’s graduation, argues that if students elect a peer to give a message, without specifying that it be a prayer, that student has a right to pray.