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Tennessee school to end prayer at ceremony (August 30, 2022)

A concerned district parent contacted FFRF regarding prayer at the fifth-grade “promotion ceremony” at Ooltewah Elementary School in Tennessee. Reportedly, the school’s principal introduced a pastor to “lead us in our invocation.” The Christian prayer invoked “the Heavenly Father and God.” The pastor asked that God “be honored here tonight as we honor these graduates.”

“Scheduling prayer at Hamilton County School District graduations is unconstitutional and a violation of school policy,” FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman wrote to the district’s legal counsel D. Scott Bennett. “Please take the necessary steps to ensure that the rights of conscience of all participants and attendees will be respected at future district events.”

A response from Bennett acknowledged the district’s violation and assured FFRF that prayer will not be a part of future ceremonies.

“We have discussed your concerns with the principal, and we have confirmed that someone did offer a prayer,” Bennett responded. “The principal understands that federal law and board policy prohibit these prayers, and she has assured us that this same oversight will not recur.”