High School Student Puts a Stop to Graduation Prayer Vote May 14, 2011

High School Student Puts a Stop to Graduation Prayer Vote

About a year ago, Eric Workman was graduating from Indiana’s Greenwood High School. The school had allowed students to vote on whether or not to pray at graduation.

Eric contacted the Freedom From Religion Foundation and they put a stop to that illegal practice.

As is always the case, student speakers were allowed to insert prayers into their own speeches. The administrators even let everybody know (*cough cough*) they wouldn’t screen the speeches beforehand…

I’m getting a sense of déjà vu hearing about Laurens District High School in South Carolina

They were also allowing students to vote on graduation prayers. But after hearing from FFRF, they won’t be doing that anymore.

For that, we can thank graduating senior (and my new personal hero) Harrison Hopkins:

“It [graduation prayer] gives the feeling to us that aren’t of that certain religion, that we’re excluded, like we’re not as important as the other.”

As for students who invoke god in their personal speeches, Harrison is fine with that:

“That would be ok ’cause that is not supported by the school. That is the student doing it of their own accord and that is well within their First Amendment rights.”

Don’t you love the shirt he’s wearing in the clip, too? 🙂

Superintendent Billy Strickland issued this statement after Harrison intervened:

“Our legal counsel has advised us that we should discontinue the practice of voting on whether to have an invocation delivered at the graduation ceremony so we do not create a basis for a legal challenge. We will have student speakers at the graduation ceremony, and we issue the following disclaimer: The views expressed during student-led messages are solely those of the speaker and do not reflect the approval or disapproval of Laurens School District 55 or the school administration, and they are neither sponsored nor endorsed by Laurens School District 55, its agents, or employees.”

Bravo, Harrison!

(Meanwhile, how is the other student in the news clip, Austin Paysinger, graduating? How did he pass a government class when he thinks the majority can do whatever the fuck it wants, regardless of how illegal it is?)

Jessica Ahlquist, a high school atheist who’s no stranger to church/state controversies, knows exactly what he’s going through:

Since this issue has been brought up, Harrison has been called a hypocrite, an asshole, and even the antichrist (hehe).

It’s not easy to do these things. What Harrison and I are facing is difficult, but it shouldn’t stop the movement which has begun. Yes, it’s degrading to go to school everyday where you are hated by nearly everyone. It’s painful to lose friends and know that the smiles some of your favorite teachers give you are forced. It’s annoying to walk down the hall and hear people say things under their breath about you. However, it is a small price to pay in the scheme of things. We should all value our rights and freedom much more than what petty haters have to say.

They’re only high schoolers. I’m amazed. I get angry/upset reading most of the news stories you all send me about religion. But stories like this one leave me incredibly optimistic about our future.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I love that this is happening more and more. And that the FFRF is there to support them.

  • Not to take away from what any of these brave kids are doing, but it has always been my understanding that the majority of challenges have, traditionally, been made by out-of-centre religious groups, such as the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now I wonder if that is true….

    As for my own graduation, we had a prayer led by our principal, but at the time, I was too ston… err, no really motivated enough to make a fuss.

  • Majority rules? I wonder if he’d say that if the majority wanted a Muslim prayer. Or a Hindu prayer. I think there’s a video on youtube of a prayer session in congress. Only this one is a Hindu prayer. You should see the reactions.

  • psychodiva

    I wonder why those that feel the need to pray cannot do it quietly on their own and not subject others to their weird beliefs? Why is it those that do not want to pray are expected to put up with those that do- why not the other way around?

  • rosie

    Bravo to Harrison! And to FFRF!

  • Richard Wade

    Here’s a good basic answer to the “majority rules” argument:

    We live in a Constitutional democracy, not a direct democracy. People can’t just vote on any issue they wish. They can vote only on issues that are allowed by the Constitution, the law of the land. Otherwise, there would be plenty of towns where the majority could vote to throw all the Jews and people of color out of town. They could vote to force everyone to attend only one church in town. They could vote to impose any tyranny they please.

    The majority does not rule. The Constitution rules. Read it. Learn it. It protects you as well as those with whom you disagree. If a minority’s rights can be taken away, your rights can and will eventually be taken away. Everyone is free or no one is free.

  • PhiloKGB

    At least the Christians are being consistent. If there’s one thing Jesus approved of, it was praying aloud amongst a large group of people and attempting to coerce everyone present into praying along with you.

  • Troglodyke

    I want to send a message to Harrison and Jessica: THANK YOU.

    I know it’s not easy being an outcast during this time in your life. Teenagers can be brutal. But what you are doing will outlast the hatred and misinformation.

    What you are doing matters, and having done it, you’ll feel much better about your futures. Keep up the excellent work!

  • @Richard: I was always taught that here in the United States, we supposedly lived in a “constitutional representative republic” (with its democratic underpinnings, of course); unfortunately, our so-called “representatives” don’t really represent us (that, or maybe they represent us too well, which is just as scary and disheartening).

    One thing our representatives are supposed to do, is realize when those they represent are “batshit insane”, and rather than doing what is popular or what will get them re-elected, instead doing what is just and/or best for all they represent. These people we vote for, as the electorate we are supposed to seek the best, the most intelligent, the most just – to represent us, understanding that they will do such, as best as they can (we also must know they will still make mistakes – they are only human).

    Instead – somewhere along the line, most of this has gotten lost; our representatives only represent those who will re-elect them. It has become all about “them” instead of “us”. No matter what the consequences, no matter who is wronged.

    Divided we shall fall.

  • Harrison Hopkins

    Hey, thanks all for the support!

    There’s another video here, and article here. The only person they interview from the community is a woman who started a petition to put the official prayer back into the schedule.

    I really didn’t expect this to explode like it did. It wasn’t until this week that it started gathering media attention (I contacted the FFRF and SC ACLU about a month ago).

    I’ve been really surprised at both the backlash from people, and the support from some of the people at my school. I’ve had several people (including teachers!) say to me that they agree with me, regardless of their religious beliefs.

    This upcoming week is my last of high school. And what a fun week it will be!

    If you all are interested, there’s a poll here asking “Should organized prayer be allowed at school commencements?”

    Again, thank all of you so much for your support!

  • JoeBuddha

    IIRC, Reagan had that breakthrough realization that he only needed to represent the folx who elected him rather than everyone. Probably happened before, but it seems he became the model.
    As to standing up for what you believe, I remember fondly the day my son refused to say the Boy Scout Oath because it mentioned God. I was willing to support his decision whatever it was, as I was a Scout in my youth, but to see him stand up for what he DIDN’T believe was a truly beautiful moment. Needless to say, he wasn’t allowed to join.

  • CanadianNihilist

    by Hemant

    As is always the case, student speakers were allowed to insert prayers into their own speeches. The administrators even let everybody know (*cough cough*) they wouldn’t screen the speeches beforehand…

    Man, If I was a student I would use that opportunity to openly pray about pagan rituals, satanism or just good old Allah. Then see how open they are to prayer in their school.

  • Dan W

    Good to see more atheists in high school getting active about these sorts of things. Bravo to them.

    Meanwhile, how did that other student manage to go through high school without learning that America is not a government system where the majority rules? Was he never taught about the Constitution, which is supposed to protect the rights of the minority from the majority? When I was a senior in high school, I had to take a class on government, and I’m pretty sure I already knew about how the American government was set up before that.

  • I’m a little disappointed that the news story didn’t state outright that a religious prayer was against the First Amendment. Unless that was in the last 10 seconds of the clip where the sound went? it reads as if the school are just backing down to avoid a legal battle and not that they were wrong to promote a religion.

  • Troglodyke

    If you all are interested, there’s a poll here asking “Should organized prayer be allowed at school commencements?”

    The “no” votes are way winning. 🙂

  • Marcie

    Wow, wish I would have been that brave when I graduated high school back in ’92. We didn’t even get to vote, the school just had a diffent clergy member from the community speak at graduation each year.

  • Rich

    This is my alma mater. I wish I could figure out a way to contact this guy and offer my support — I’m sure they haven’t made life easy for him the last few days and weeks. I can’t find him on Facebook. Oh well, this town is losing their minds over this, but this too shall pass.

  • I guess I missed this article. I’m really happy to see that there are more students speaking out.

    Hopefully we have this big public revelation, as these kids inspire others, to correct the “prayer in school” issues.

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