Ohio school district ending graduation prayers thanks to FFRF

Thanks to the work of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, New Riegel Local Schools in Ohio will no longer include prayer at graduation ceremonies.

The national state/church watchdog was contacted by a concerned school community member who informed it that the New Riegel High School commencement ceremony included a student-led invocation. The student speaker asked attendees to stand and bow their heads before delivering a prayer. The ceremony program listed the invocation taking place before the Pledge of Allegiance. FFRF was informed that the inclusion of invocations during graduation ceremonies was a regular practice in the district. The ceremony additionally included a Catholic-specific Father Edmund F. Morman Scholarship, presented on stage by local religious congregation leader Father Timothy Kummerer.

“Students have the First Amendment right to be free from religious indoctrination in their public schools, including when participating in commencement ceremonies,” FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote to Superintendent David Rombach.

By including prayer, in this case overtly Christian prayers, the school put students and families in the unacceptable position of choosing between exiting the ceremony or violating their conscience, FFRF points out. Moreover, prayers at graduation needlessly alienate the students and families who are non-Christians, including those students part of the 49 percent of Generation Z that is religiously unaffiliated. The inclusion of a presentation of a scholarship commemorating a religious leader’s faith-related work displays favoritism towards religion over nonreligion — and Catholicism above other faiths.

FFRF’s reasoning convinced New Riegel Local Schools officials. An email from Superintendent Rombach has informed FFRF that the violation has been corrected.

“The district does not intend to permit a prayer to be offered in upcoming graduation ceremonies,” Rombach writes in the email. “Regarding awarding the Father Morman Scholarship, while we do not believe its presentation was unlawful, we will consider the concerns and perspective you raise as we plan future graduation ceremonies and awards presentations.”

FFRF is pleased to see a school district taking action to abide by the First Amendment.

““Ending this state/church violation will keep the emphasis where it belongs at a graduation ceremony: on students and their 13 years of secular education and achievement,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

You can read FFRF’s letter to the superintendent here.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 1,000 members and three chapters in Ohio. Its 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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