The American Civil Liberties Union wants to file a lawsuit against an Arkansas high school for allowing a student to give an “altar call” prayer during a high school graduation ceremony.
During the May 20 event at the Arkansas State University Convocation Center, senior Jessica Reed said, “In the closing moments of this service, if you would like to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, here’s your chance,” reported KAIT-TV in Jonesboro.
Donn Mixon, attorney for Jonesboro Public Schools, said his office was contacted after the event by the ACLU, which claimed “there had been a violation of the First Amendment, separation of church and state with regard to a prayer.”
The ACLU now is looking for a plaintiff in the case against Jonesboro High School, KAIT reported.
Rita Sklar, Arkansas ACLU executive director, said in a letter to district lawyers the event was a “blatant display of contempt for the First Amendment.”
Mixon said, “This is a tough area for schools to balance. People have a freedom of religion, but as a school district, we can not recognize a religion, and the balance between those two is where the rub comes.”
Mixon said the school district policy “is to not recognize any particular religion and not to recognize religion, period.”
“In this case, the student was on the school program as giving a prayer, and that does go against our policies,” he said.
During her speech, Reed said, “I’m here to tell you that God is someone, that he is amazing. He will love you through everything. He will praise you when you are down. All you have to do is give your heart to Him. And before we leave, I want to give you that opportunity.”
Mixon says the policy will be enforced and he hopes there will not be a lawsuit.
“It has occurred from time to time that students speak their mind about religion, or about prayer at graduation,” he said. “The problem comes when the school recognizes that. And we had a lapse where our policy about prayer was apparently not followed that is still being investigated, but we can assure the ACLU and the public that that will not happen again.”
Mixon said he could not comment on whether or not the student who gave the speech had been punished by the school.