FFRF salutes Penn. school district's graduation policy

1Graduation stock image

The Freedom From Religious Foundation is applauding a Pennsylvania school district for respecting the right of conscience of all its students.

At the recent Beaver High School graduation ceremony, the Beaver Area School District adopted a policy to review the proposed remarks of designated student speakers prior to graduation in order to maintain a welcoming, religiously neutral environment. Officials properly rejected a “speech” by one student that was predominately a prayer, directed to her “Heavenly Father” and “Lord.”

Appallingly, the Christian advocacy group First Liberty Institute sent the school district a letter objecting to the district’s policy, even suggesting that it is illegal. FFRF asserts that the policy is not only legally sound, but it is the most effective way for the district to ensure that its graduation ceremonies do not become religiously or politically divisive.

“What First Liberty doesn’t want to acknowledge is that a graduation ceremony is for all students and their families, not just those in the Christian majority,” writes FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor in a letter to Superintendent Carrie Rowe. “Graduations are not the place for personal religious promotion.” 

FFRF asks the school district to consider the repercussions if it actually opened its ceremonies up to religious debate, which would happen if graduation speakers were given free rein to advance personal religious viewpoints through devotional remarks. The religious viewpoints of students vary, and over 35 percent of younger Americans born after 1990 are not religious at all. If the school district were to comply with First Liberty’s wishes by allowing Christian prayers at its graduations, a large portion of high school students would be alienated. A graduation ceremony should not turn into a preaching contest that excludes many students and members of the audience.

FFRF offers a warm thanks to Beaver Area School District for espousing an appropriate policy focused on celebrating the culmination of years of secular education and personal achievements of the graduating class.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization, with more than 29,000 nonreligious members and chapters all over the country, including 880-plus in Pennsylvania and two chapters, the Central Pennsylvania Rationalists and Nittany Freethought. Image by tonefotografia via Shutterstock

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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