KY. Students Circumvent Court’s Graduation Prayer Order

Students at a Kentucky high school found a way to include prayer in their graduation ceremonies despite a federal judge’s order barring a school-sponsored invocation.

To circumvent U.S. District Judge Joseph H. McKinley’s May 19 injunction against official prayer at the Russell County High School graduation, students broke into recitation of the Lord’s Prayer shortly after Principal Darren Gossage began to address the students. A local newspaper, the Times Journal, reported that the students’ action was received with deafening applause from the audience.

BP News, a Southern Baptist news service, disclosed that Megan Chapman, a senior elected by her peers to give a prayer at the graduation, was intent on ensuring prayer was included in commencement exercises. Megan told BP News that she and her sister Mandy distributed cards with the words to the Lord’s Prayer to her classmates and appointed a student to signal the start of the prayer.

“They all believed in God,” Chapman told the news service, “and wanted God in their graduation, and they didn’t want one student to make all that go away.”

Student Derrick Ping had asked the Kentucky affiliate of the ACLU to file a suit seeking a halt to organized prayer at graduation. Ping was not happy with his peers’ actions, but said he was told by the local ACLU that further litigation is not likely.

The U.S. Supreme Court in its 1992 Lee v. Weisman ruling held that school-organized prayer at graduation ceremonies is a violation of the First Amendment principle of church-state separation. The high court in 2005 ruled in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe that school-sanctined, student-led prayer at high school football games is also unconstitutional.