Colo. school breaks promise to FFRF of no grad prayer

Julesburg High School in Colorado included a prayer at its graduation ceremony, despite Julesburg School District Superintendent Shawn Ehnes assuring FFRF that there was “no chance” there would be prayer.

FFRF originally wrote to the district on February 27 after receiving a report that the public high school’s graduations had featured prayer in previous years, including a standing public recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.

On March 3, FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel received a call from Superintendent Ehnes, who denied there had ever been a minister or public prayer at a Julesburg graduation. Seidel elicited an assurance from Ehnes there was “no chance it will happen in the future.”

Despite this, at this year’s May 17 commencement, the school put prayer on the program. Two students asked attendees to stand and bow their heads before delivering a Christian prayer that included a quote from the Book of Jeremiah and ended, “in Jesus we bless our graduation.”

Seidel wrote the district again on May 26. “As we already discussed, it is well settled that public schools may not advance, prefer, or promote religion,” he said. “The blatant and continued disregard for established legal principles by the District is especially alarming given your assurances following our last letter.”

FFRF points out that a growing number of people, including 43% of millennials, are not Christian, making Christian prayers ever more inappropriate.

The letter concludes noting that FFRF “takes violations of students’ rights of conscience by public schools very seriously,” pointing to several of FFRF’s current lawsuits to uphold students’ rights. FFRF asks the district to give written assurance that public prayers at district events will cease, and to detail the steps the district is taking to ensure staff know their constitutional obligations.

FFRF is a national state/church watchdog with more than 22,800 members, including nearly 700 members and two chapters in Colorado.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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