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Indiana School District in Battle Over Commencement Prayer

Free speech is the topic of discussion in a Greenwood, Indiana high school where the central Indiana school district is trying to allow a graduation prayer that the senior class voted to be allowed to be said. The problem is that the valedictorian of the school has filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming that the prayer and the vote for it are unconstitutional.

FreeSpeechZone.jpgThe school district says that if the court blocks the prayer, it could be seen as a violation of free speech. The request from the school district is brought on by the lawsuit filed by class valedictorian Eric Workman. He, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the lawsuit on Monday. He claims that the prayer is unconstitutional because it is a practice of majority rule.

The case looks to the courts to determine where the fine line is for the expression of religious values in schools. The ACLU states the organization’s reasoning behind overturning the earlier blocking of the prayer goes against Supreme Court precedent in similar cases.

The organization plans to allow for the students to have student led prayer unless a judge orders them not to do so. However, a ruling is scheduled to be made on April 30th. The school says that students voted to allow student led prayer during the graduation in September at an assembly. Students did not have to attend the assembly, nor did they have to vote. The practice of allowing prayer in the school setting changes year to year but in most cases, at least one student is allowed to lead a prayer during the opening remarks, though the prayer is said to be nonsectarian.

Also notable is that the school requires that all who speak during the graduation ceremony submit their speeches in advance for approval and that some do use religious themes within those speeches. The school does not forbid them from doing so.

The school district maintains that allowing student led prayer is not a violation as students are not compelled to participate in it. The school says that anyone not praying will be expected to remain quiet and respectful as is the practice when anyone speaks. The ACLU on the other hand, says that students who are still being subjected to the prayer and will feel compelled to participate, which would make it uncomfortable for Workman and others.