FFRF was able to put an end to prayers at an Ohio high school graduation ceremony after being alerted to the constitutional violation by a concerned citizen.
During the 2021 graduation ceremony, the principal of Barnesville High School reportedly invited a student to the stage “to lead us in prayer.” The student, who identified himself as the class president, started the Christian prayer with “Let us pray. Dear Lord, thank you for this day.” The prayer ended with “May they always turn to you for direction. We ask this in your name. Amen.”
During the 2022 graduation ceremony, the principal reportedly asked the audience to “please rise” and to “remain standing for the invocation.” He then called up a student “who will lead us in prayer.” The prayer began with “Heavenly Father” and ended with the wish to “Please keep us safe . . . as we continue our destinies. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”
“Requiring nonreligious students and attendees to make a public showing of their nonbelief by not participating in a prayer or else to display deference toward a religious sentiment in which they do not believe is coercive, embarrassing, and intimidating,” FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman wrote to Barnesville Schools Superintendent Angie Hannahs. “Barnesville Schools students and families have the right to a prayer-free celebration . . . The district has a duty to remain neutral toward religion. By scheduling prayers at graduation, the district abridges that duty and alienates non-Christians, including the almost 30 percent of the population who are not religious.”
A response from Hannahs assured FFRF that this issue has been addressed. “I have investigated the matter,” Hannahs wrote. “[T]he Barnesville School District will not schedule prayers at school graduations in the future.”