The Freedom From Religion Foundation is pleased with the Oklahoma-based Keystone Public Schools for protecting the rights of its students and their family members by removing prayers from its graduation ceremonies.
A concerned Keystone Public Schools parent informed the state/church watchdog that the district’s eighth grade graduation ceremony held on May 4 included an opening and closing prayer. The complainant reported feeling uncomfortable with this religious ritual as an atheist, and feared being ostracized if others noticed they were not participating in the school-sponsored prayer.
FFRF requested the district investigate the situation and ensure that future district graduation ceremonies not include prayer.
“A public school may not violate the constitutional rights of graduating students and their families by subjecting them to prayer,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Rhett Bynum.
It is well settled that public schools may not show favoritism towards or coerce belief or participation in religion, FFRF pointed out. Even if student-led, school officials may not invite a student, teacher, faculty member, or clergy member to give any type of prayer, invocation, benediction, or sermon at a school-sponsored event. The prayer was publicly broadcast to the entire audience of young students and their families who were forced to choose between being subjected to prayer against their conscience or missing their own graduation ceremony. Moreover, prayers at graduation needlessly alienate the students and families who are non-Christians, including the 49 percent of Generation Z students who identify as religiously unaffiliated.
Thankfully, FFRF has received a penitent letter from Superintendent Bynum in response, reporting that the district will no longer include opening and closing prayers at any graduation ceremony moving forward. “I am truly sorry to anyone that was in a difficult position of deciding to stay or leave this eighth grade graduation ceremony. Keystone Schools will make sure that this does not happen again,” he writes.
FFRF is always appreciative when school officials engage in constitutional correction after it contacts them.
“We are glad that the district is striving to create a welcoming, inclusive environment for students,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor says. “The district made the right call by putting the students’ freedom of conscience first.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 41,000 members across the country, including hundreds of members in Oklahoma. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.