Kentucky High School Graduates Ignore Objections, Pray at Ceremony

A Kentucky high school continued its tradition of having a student lead a prayer during graduation ceremonies, despite objections by at least six students, Fox News reports. Jonathan Hardwick, class of 2013 president at Lincoln County High School in Stanford, was given a standing ovation after he delivered a prayer during Friday’s commencement. A video of Hardwick’s prayer quickly hit social media, with most online comments supporting his decision. "Thank you for helping us get here safely today, Lord, and thank you for the many blessings you have given us," Hardwick said as part of the prayer. Lincoln High principal Tim Godbey acknowledged that six students — including at least one atheist — had asked him not to allow a student-led prayer at the ceremony. Godbey, who is Christian, said under separation of church and state laws, faculty members have never been able to pray publicly on school grounds or during school-sponsored events, but he noted that the U.S. Constitution does not prohibit students from praying as long as they are not disrupted. Ricky Smith, an atheist who has been lobbying for a "moment of silence" to replace prayer during government meetings in the area, said he intended to notify the American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom From Religion Foundation about Lincoln’s public prayer, which he feels violated the civil rights of students who are not Christians. (Online Source)

While I heartily commend those who take a positive stance for prayer, I think there are several common threads in these situations:

1. The false interpretation of ‘church/state separation’ is always a factor. It was about the state establishing a state religion such as was in England.

2. The protesters’ objections aren’t, at the deepest level, about prayer. They have ‘God’ issues. No one’s civil rights are really violated when there are public expressions of faith, any more than the civil rights of believers are violated when the world around them slanders and blasphemes their God.

3. Freedom ‘from’ religion cannot be obtained via institutions of men. We are all ‘religious’ by nature (Romans 1). The best that can be obtained is ‘outside’ reminders being removed from the minds of those who suppress truth they inherently know.

4. Christians can be a bit over the top in their ‘celebrations’ , whether it’s thunderous applause for the one who actually prayed in public (as in the video clip), or viral social media ‘idolizing’ the individual who prayed. It might be better to  just humbly added an ‘Amen!’ to the prayer instead of displaying the ‘us v. them’ aspects of the issue.

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Food for thought on a Friday morning.

13 responses to “Kentucky High School Graduates Ignore Objections, Pray at Ceremony

        • Doing well. Not doing so well trying to get a few folks to behave biblically about some things tho……:) Maybe one of them will actually address the scriptures supporting caution. Hope springs eternal.

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          • I liked the post about SGM and the proper reaction to it. Proverbs says, “He that passes by and meddles in affairs not belonging to him is like one that takes a dog up by the ears.” Too bad there are so many snoops and gossips in the world.

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            • Excellent passage, If a defendant is tried in the public square in the applicable court district, changes of venue are often fought for and won. I wonder how that might apply when the public square is the entire blogosphere. I also think our poor behavior as professing believers drags the name of our Lord and Savior right through the mud. I wonder how long before I am accused of actually accusing someone of something rather than just making a general statement I believe to be true.

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  1. While the First Amendment undoubtedly was intended to preclude the government from establishing a national religion as you note, that was hardly the limit of its intended scope. The first Congress debated and rejected just such a narrow provision (“no religion shall be established by law, nor shall the equal rights of conscience be infringed”) and ultimately chose the more broadly phrased prohibition now found in the Amendment. During his presidency, Madison vetoed two bills, neither of which would form a national religion or compel observance of any religion, on the ground that they were contrary to the establishment clause. While some in Congress expressed surprise that the Constitution prohibited Congress from incorporating a church in the town of Alexandria in the District of Columbia or granting land to a church in the Mississippi Territory, Congress upheld both vetoes. In keeping with the Amendment’s terms and legislative history and other evidence, the courts have wisely interpreted it to restrict the government from taking steps that could establish religion de facto as well as de jure. Were the Amendment interpreted merely to preclude government from enacting a statute formally establishing a state church, the intent of the Amendment could easily be circumvented by government doing all sorts of things to promote this or that religion–stopping just short of cutting a ribbon to open its new church.

    It is important to distinguish between “individual” and “government” speech about religion. The constitutional principle of separation of church and state does not purge religion from the public square–far from it. Indeed, the First Amendment’s “free exercise” clause assures that each individual is free to exercise and express his or her religious views–publicly as well as privately. The Amendment constrains only the government not to promote or otherwise take steps toward establishment of religion. As government can only act through the individuals comprising its ranks, when those individuals are performing their official duties (e.g., public school teachers instructing students in class), they effectively are the government and thus should conduct themselves in accordance with the First Amendment’s constraints on government. When acting in their individual capacities, they are free to exercise their religions as they please. If their right to free exercise of religion extended even to their discharge of their official responsibilities, however, the First Amendment constraints on government establishment of religion would be eviscerated. While figuring out whether someone is speaking for the government in any particular circumstance (e.g., a school principal or chosen student offering a prayer at a school event) may sometimes be difficult, making the distinction is critical.

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  2. You might want to reload those history lessons. The history of the founders’ understanding and meaning with respect to “establishment of religion” is hardly as simple as your point 1 and hardly supportive of it. To be sure, the founders intended to preclude the federal government from founding a national church; but that was the least of it, and hardly the full extent of what they intended to preclude.

    You are, of course, correct to say that the First Amendment does not create a civil right not to be exposed to the name of God in the public square. Few with any real knowledge of the law entertain any such notion. Wake Forest University has published a short, objective Q&A primer on the current law of separation of church and state–as applied by the courts rather than as caricatured in the blogosphere. I commend it to you. http://tiny.cc/6nnnx

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