Another school district has folded to the destructive legal bullying that is the sole driving force of the atheist Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). Officials with the Canton Public Schools announced that the district will no longer allow prayer to be offered at graduation ceremonies or other school-sponsored events, after a local pastor’s prayer during Canton’s high-school graduation ceremony prompted the FFRF to demand a halt to such uplifting observances.
During this year’s graduation ceremony, local pastor John Tamilio was called upon to offer the invocation, during which he appealed to a “holy, loving, and most gracious God,” asking Him, among other petitions, to bless the graduating students and to empower them to “serve others in service of Him, seeing the entirety of their lives as a ministry of love, truth, courage, and reconciliation. Wherever their future education and vocations lead them, may they embody a spirit of compassion, acceptance, and affinity for all that is good, for all that is just, and for all that gives life.”
Apparently, someone in attendance at the ceremony reported the prayer to the FFRF, prompting the godless group to target the district with one of its canned missives on the danger and alleged unconstitutional nature of such faith-focused observances in public-school settings.
In a letter to district superintendent Dr. Jennifer Fischer-Mueller, FFRF attorney Colin McNamara warned that the Supreme Court had already “settled” the issue of prayer in school, insisting that “high school graduations must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students. It makes no difference how many students or families want prayer at the graduation ceremony.... The district has a duty to refrain from endorsing religion. By scheduling prayers at graduation, the district abridges that duty and alienates the 38% of Americans born after 1987 who are not religious.”
McNamara cited the 1991 U.S. Supreme Court case Lee v. Weisman, in which the High Court ruled 5-4 that a clergyman’s prayer at a Rhode Island middle-school graduation had created a supposedly unconstitutional “state-sponsored and state-directed religious exercise in a public school.”
McNamara concluded his letter by demanding that the district “inform us in writing of the steps Canton Public Schools will take to ensure that religious rituals are not part of graduation ceremonies or any other school-sponsored events.”
Fischer-Mueller responded to the FFRF threat by confirming that the district had taken steps “to ensure that there will be no prayers or religious rituals as a part of any school ceremony … or any other school-sponsored event.”
Notably, the majority opinion affirming the Supreme Court decision against prayer in Lee v. Weisman was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has been replaced on the High Court by his chief protegé and one-time clerk, Justice Brett Kavanugh. “The prayer exercises in this case are especially improper,” wrote Kennedy in the landmark decision against the reasonable concept of prayer in schools, “because the State has in every practical sense compelled attendance and participation in an explicit religious exercise at an event of singular importance to every student, one the objecting student had no real alternative to avoid.”
Over the past several years, the FFRF has aggressively targeted schools and districts with a tradition of prayer. As reported by the Christian Post, last month the atheist group “was successful in pressuring an Alabama school district to end its tradition of having someone say a prayer over the intercom before the start of high school football games. The community responded by reciting in unison the Lord’s Prayer at the very next game following the school district’s decision. Additionally, local churches made and handed out hundreds of ‘We Believe’ T-shirts to those who attended the game.”