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No more principal prayers in Tennessee ceremony (June 7, 2023)

A principal’s proselytizing remarks, including a prayer, will no longer be a part of Battle Creek Middle School’s eighth-grade awards ceremony.

A Maury County Public School parent reported that Battle Creek Middle School promotion and awards ceremony featured a speech from the principal which included several bible verses as part of his closing remarks. He stated that he regularly reads the bible to students and recommends that students read the bible as a good guide for their lives. The complainant further reports that the principal closed the ceremony with an explicitly Christian prayer, prefaced by stating that he was honored to be principal, but he was still going to pray. The complainant took this to mean that the principal was aware that it is unconstitutional for a public school district’s principal to deliver prayers at a school-sponsored event.

FFRF’s complainant reported feeling uncomfortable as part of a nonreligious family, and did not participate in the prayer or stand to applaud the principal. The religious remarks made them and their children uncomfortable, as the prayer and proselytizing remarks were unconstitutional, but they also felt singled out and excluded at a school-sponsored event.

“School officials, including principals, may not invite a student, teacher, faculty member, or clergy to give any type of prayer, invocation, or benediction at a public school graduation nor may they deliver one themselves,” FFRF Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote to Superintendent Lisa Ventura.

FFRF received a swift response from Ventura, notifying of actions taken. “I have investigated this incident and spoken with [the principal]. The actions of [the principal] violated the school district’s policies and procedures. I have issued a private letter of concern, and he has been instructed not to repeat this behavior going forward.” FFRF was additionally notified that in response to the incident, further training will be provided to the staff to prevent similar occurrences in the future.