Special Delivery: Watchdog Groups Send Letter To Obstreperous La. School Officials Over Graduation Prayer Flap

Here’s a quick follow-up on the situation in Bastrop, La.

As you may recall, graduating senior Damon Fowler asked his public high school last week to stop sponsoring official prayers at graduation.  School officials reluctantly agreed to end this longstanding, unconstitutional practice and said they informed speakers to ask for a moment of silence instead of a prayer.  Unfortunately, a student speaker did not abide by this advice and recited the Lord’s Prayer anyway.

Today, Americans United, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Louisiana and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, sent a letter to officials of Bastrop High School and the Trustees of the Bastrop Independent School District.

The letter noted that it is deeply troubling that the high school has a long history of including official prayer at graduation, despite clear law on the subject that bans the practice.

“Only when a student complained and threatened to sue did the School District take steps to discontinue this practice by replacing the prayer with a moment-of-silence,” the letter asserts. “The steps taken, however, were far from effective. Instead of having a school official deliver the moment-of-silence – which would have ensured that the opportunity was not abused – school officials turned to a student.

“Not surprisingly,” the letter continued, “the student chose to deliver the Lord’s Prayer — while school officials sat idly by.  To date, no apology has been delivered to the community by Bastrop High School officials or the Board of Trustees, for either past or recent events."

We asked that the school now take action to remedy its past mistakes and violations of the law. Some suggestions on how the school can do this include: disciplining the student for insubordination, issuing a statement to apologize to the community and actually taking appropriate measures to ensure that this will not happen again.

Most notably, AU recommends the school ask a school official, rather than a student, to present the moment of silence at events from here on out.

AU and our allies truly hope that Bastrop High School – and other public school districts across the country – takes this very seriously.

Public school educators have the duty to uphold the Constitution and do right by students. All students should feel welcome and respected at their own school.

Bastrop High School completely denied that right to Damon Fowler and the many students who came before him who also felt excluded because of their different beliefs. We can’t afford to let this continue.