Mich. school district drops prayer after FFRF intervenes

Vicksburg Community Schools.jpg

A Michigan school district has deleted Christian prayer from its senior award ceremony after the Freedom From Religion Foundation conveyed the objection of parents to officials.

A concerned Vicksburg Community Schools parent had informed the state/church watchdog that the May 2023 Vicksburg High School senior awards banquet, held at the high school, included two Christian prayers — one before the ceremony and one before dinner. The prayers were led by a district employee and the opening prayer was listed on the banquet’s program. Both prayers explicitly mentioned Jesus Christ and were overtly Christian.

It is a basic constitutional principle that public schools may not show favoritism toward or coerce belief or participation in religion, FFRF emphasized.

“The Supreme Court has specifically struck down prayers given at public school events. Including explicitly Christian prayers as part of a school-sponsored awards banquet held on school property clearly crosses the line,” FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote to Superintendent Keevin O’Neill. “Vicksburg High School, and thus the district, displayed clear favoritism towards religion over nonreligion, and Christianity above all other faiths. Further, students and their families were coerced to observe two Christian prayers in order to participate in a banquet meant to honor students’ achievements, not promote religion.”

FFRF also reminded the district that imposing Christian prayer on students, parents and community members violates their religious rights. As much as 37 percent of the American population is non-Christian, including the almost 30 percent who are nonreligious.

Vicksburg Community Schools heeded FFRF’s admonishment.

“The district appreciates you bringing district parent concerns about these invocations to its attention,” the school district’s legal counsel wrote back. “Please be advised that, from this point forward, the district will not incorporate invocations or prayers into school-sponsored events, like this reception.”

FFRF is pleased with the district’s responsive attitude.

“We’re grateful the district in future will be more inclusive, respect the rights of non-Christians and nonbelievers, and honor the principle of separation between state and church,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Once we conveyed the misgivings of parents to officials, they made the right move.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members across the country, including more than 1,000 members in Michigan. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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