COLUMBUS, Neb. (AP) — A small Nebraska school district will continue its tradition of a student-led prayer during graduation despite pressure from ACLU Nebraska to end the practice.
The parents committee that is organizing Sunday's ceremony said Lakeview High School's graduating seniors have requested a prayer be included in the program.
“It's the kids' graduation, and they planned it that way,” parent Iantha Miller said.
The ACLU sent a letter to the 685-student school district in November complaining that prayers at graduation ceremonies violate students' First Amendment right to religious freedom.
The Columbus-based district's graduation ceremonies have been voluntary and parent-run since a 2001 ACLU complaint about the prayers.
The district has tried to remedy the latest complaint by further separating the graduation ceremony from the school. Policy changes make it clear that the district does not endorse any messages at private events and that participation in graduation is voluntary. Changes were also made to the district's rental policy, and the parents committee will pay $150 to use the school gymnasium for graduation.
Lakeview School Board President Keith Runge said he wasn't aware of any complaints about the upcoming ceremony.
“All I've heard is ‘Keep doing what you're doing,' ” he said.
ACLU Nebraska legal director Amy Miller said the changes aren't enough and that the group hopes the district will make the graduation prayer-free.
“The current artificial ‘private' graduation simply doesn't pass the laugh test and sadly leaves some students feeling excluded from their own graduation,” she said.
The ACLU has suggested the district remove any religious activity from the graduation and incorporate it in the baccalaureate, which is typically held the night before and is voluntary.
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