FFRF plans to sue over student prayer vote

The Freedom From Religion Foundation plans to bring a lawsuit against School District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties for sanctioning graduation prayer at Irmo High School in Irmo, S.C.

FFRF is a national nonprofit with over 18,000 members across the country, including over 100 members in South Carolina.

According to FFRF’s student complainant, Max Nielson, the Irmo High School administration passed out ballots in homeroom classes, and graduating seniors were asked to vote on whether or not there would be a prayer at graduation.

The School Board of Trustees policy specifically calls for a student vote: “The use of an invocation and/or benediction at a high school graduation exercise will be determined by a majority vote of the graduating senior class with the advice and counsel of the principal.”

Superintendent Steve Hefner declined FFRF’s and the student’s request to remove the invocation from the graduation. The ceremony is scheduled for May 30 at the Carolina Coliseum on the campus of the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

The Supreme Court has continually struck down prayers at school-sponsored events, including public school graduations, FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott noted in a letter to Hefner. “Even if student-delivered, school officials may not invite a student, teacher, faculty member or clergy to give any type of prayer, invocation or benediction at a public high school graduation.”

In Santa Fe Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court specifically struck down a school policy that authorized students to vote on whether to hold a prayer at high school football games. The court stated, “[a] student election does nothing to protect minority views but rather places the students who hold such views at the mercy of the majority. … [F]undamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.”

FFRF is puzzled why the district would ignore legal precedent from the nation’s highest court and let students vote on graduation prayer. Attorney Aaron Kozloski is representing FFRF and Max Nielson in federal court. 

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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