The “Friend or Foe” Graduation Prayer Campaign was launched May 4 by Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, and me. The concept behind the campaign is similar to the successful “Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign” that we initiated last year. It is appropriate that we announce this campaign on the National Day of Prayer.
The new campaign is designed to educate, and if necessary, litigate to ensure that prayer and religious viewpoints are not censored from graduation ceremonies across this nation.
Liberty Counsel, which has written a legal memo outlining current law in such cases, will defend any school that follows the law. On the other hand, when school officials censor prayer or religious speech, Liberty Counsel will file suit.
Here are the facts regarding free speech in graduation services.
If a speaker is chosen using religious-neutral criteria, and if school officials do not edit the speaker’s message of religious viewpoints, that school is on safe legal ground.
Therefore, if a valedictorian, salutatorian, class officer or class representative delivers a message, the speaker is free to include religious themes and can voluntarily pray. The same principle holds true when an adult from outside the school speaks at graduation. Private, voluntary speech on public property is constitutionally protected.
Liberty Counsel has been defending graduation prayer since Mr. Staver founded the group in 1989. In Adler v. Duval County School Board, Liberty Counsel won the right of students to pray or give religious messages during graduation. The case went before a federal court of appeals five times (twice before a panel of 12 judges), and to the U.S. Supreme Court twice. The precedent-setting case against the ACLU established the legal principle that public schools are safe when they adopt an equal access policy for graduation where students or other speakers may present either secular or religious messages, including prayer.
Public schools may also hold graduation at religious sites such as churches if the reason for doing so is religious-neutral. One such reason is that the religious venue provides a more convenient or accommodating facility than the public school. Conversely, private persons or groups may rent public school facilities to conduct privately sponsored graduation or baccalaureate ceremonies. In privately sponsored ceremonies, the speakers may be chosen for the express purpose of delivering prayer or religious speeches.
Commenting on the campaign, Staver said: “Speakers do not lose their rights to free speech when they approach the graduation podium. If schools tell graduates they cannot pray now, they will pay later. The National Day of Prayer recognizes that our country was founded on prayer. Public schools should respect our national heritage and obey our Constitution.”
I encourage graduates and speakers all across this nation to boldly pray and to give thanks to God during their schools’ ceremonies. If a problem arises, simply visit the Liberty Counsel website to seek legal assistance.
Liberty Counsel literally has hundreds of lawyers ready to spring into action when school officials seek to quell the religious liberties of high school students. I’m terribly pleased to be on board for this effort to help young people retain their rights to thank God in public school graduation venues.
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