Even though a school board decided not to have an official prayer at its high-school graduation ceremony – to avoid a “five-figure” financial penalty – the American Civil Liberties Union has sued the district anyway, claiming community members were hoping the prayer would take place despite the ban.
Last month, the ACLU threatened the Keystone School Board of Clarion County, Pa., saying it had to stop prayers both at board meetings and at graduation, which is slated for today. After school officials agreed to the demands, the ACLU sued anyway, resulting in Superintendent Henry Sinopoli signing a consent decree.
According to a report in the Clarion News, Sinopoli said he had no option but to sign the decree. Board members said they did not want to sign the document, but pointed out failing to do so would not allow the district to offer a prayer at the upcoming graduation ceremony and would result in a “five-figure” financial penalty.
The Associated Press reported Witold “Vic” Walczak, legal director of the ACLU’s Pittsburgh chapter, brought the issue to court because he believed some in the community were hoping school officials would allow prayer at the ceremony despite the earlier board decision.
“When public schools reserve time at a graduation ceremony for prayers, they violate the Constitution by putting the power, prestige and endorsement of the state behind whatever prayer is offered,” Walczak told the news service.
Walczak said the agreement, which was approved by U.S. District Judge Gary L. Lancaster, also targeted prayer offered by Sinopoli to open school board meetings “that inevitably references Jesus.”
A school official said there has been no prayer at school board meetings since the ACLU first complained last month.