Recently, there has been a slew of cases in the news about public schools being challenged for their use of prayer in graduation ceremonies. There have been some very brave students who have stepped forward and challenged the legality of the prayers in the public school system, and I want to take a moment to recognize them.
First is Jessica Ahlquist, who challenged the legality of there being a banner in her school with a prayer printed on it. Apparently it's been there for decades, not that that make it OK, but even so, the first time a student takes offence it becomes illegal. Well, it was illegal before, but now they can do something about it. The school decided to take the battle to court. Why? Because fuck all non-Catholics, that's why! Jessica is a sophomore in her high school in Rhode Island, and even though there has been backlash from the Catholic community (Rhode Island is the most Catholic state in the country), she still attends and plans on graduating from there. Her courage to stay there and show they can't scare her away is very inspiring. She is also a very talented public speaker, and I encourage you to watch or listen to her interviews.
Then there is Damon Fowler. He questioned the prayer his public school was planning to do at the graduation. The school agreed to stop the prayer, but then allowed students to pray anyway. A faculty member actually publicly attacked him by saying he hadn't contributed anything to graduation. Unfortunately for Damon he was ostracized from the community, his mother kicked him out, and was almost unable to attend his graduation for fear of reprisal. Luckily extra security was added, and he was able to attend. He has since moved to his brother's place in Texas.
Lastly there is Corwyn Schultz. His parents filed a lawsuit to stop the prayer in his graduation ceremony, only to have the Texas court system turn it down. The court's decision also allowed words that were otherwise illegal into the ceremony. The graduation was likened to a 'Revival Meeting' with applause whenever god was mentioned. Even more so than when school spirit, or the graduation itself was mentioned. Corwyn didn't attend his graduation, and I wouldn't have either. Way to go Medina Valley High School, way to show all of your students are welcome.
So here is my issue with the whole thing. It's completely unconstitutional to have a prayer at a public school. Students may pray quietly to themselves, no one is taking that right away, but the school can not be lead in any kind of prayer at all. These schools are trying to skirt the law by having students do the prayers, but they forget that they have an obligation to stop them from asking everyone to join them. Speech givers can thank god for helping them, but they can't lead a prayer. These are public schools, paid for with public money, they need to remain secular.
Christians don't seem to get that this is not an attack on their religion, it's a request for equal rights for all students. Not everyone who attends public school is Christian. Some are Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist , atheist, or any number of different beliefs/non-beliefs. Since the schools are public they need to remain neutral on the whole faith thing. That means no prayers. If you are OK with the prayers remaining in schools, ask yourself this, if a valedictorian asked the students to face Mecca and pray, or asked everyone to say a prayer to Satan for letting them all be there, or asked for all the students to rise and give thanks to Krishna, are you still OK with the prayer remaining?
The saddest part is, though, that they have made these graduations about 'us' and 'them'. They are using them as a way to assert their power and bully the minorities, when, really, graduation is to commemorate all the hard work the students have put in. They are tainting an important day in the lives of these teenagers.