FFRF curbs graduation prayer in TN middle school

Published 3:31 pm Friday, July 5, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has ensured once again that students at Battle Creek Middle School (Tenn.) will not have prayer forced upon them at graduation ceremonies in future.

A community parent informed FFRF that prayer started the May 23 Battle Creek Middle School (in Spring Hill, Tenn.) graduation ceremony. The prayer was delivered by the school principal, who gave an exclusively Christian prayer referencing Jesus Christ and a “Heavenly Father.” Prior to this, the principal even discussed the importance of prayer in his life.

FFRF wrote to the same school district in 2023, when the very same principal had included several bible verses, as well as a prayer, to close out an awards ceremony. After that incident, Maury County Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Ventura spoke with the principal about the misconduct.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“It makes no difference how many students want prayer or would not be offended by prayer at their graduation ceremony; courts have continually reaffirmed that the rights of minorities are nonetheless protected by the Constitution,” FFRF Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow Hirsh M. Joshi wrote to Ventura after the prayerful May ceremony.

Students have a constitutional right to be free from religious indoctrination in public schools, FFRF pointed out. If the district turns a blind eye to overt proselytization by its staff, on its property, it becomes complicit in an egregious constitutional violation and breach of trust. The district has a constitutional duty to remain neutral toward religion. By having prayer at its graduation ceremony, the district abridged that duty and needlessly excluded students part of the 49 percent of Generation Z that is religiously unaffiliated.

The district appears willing to listen to reason.

Ventura wrote back to the state/church watchdog, reporting that corrective action had been taken. “I have investigated this incident and spoken with [the principal]. The actions of [the principal] violated the school district’s policies and procedures. I have issued a private letter of concern, and he has been instructed not to repeat this behavior going forward,” Ventura wrote.

FFRF is always happy to set a school district on the secular path.

“Even as the actions of this principal have continued to violate the Constitution, we will continue to keep children free from such conduct,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We’re pleased that Battle Creek will ensure graduation ceremonies going forward will honor the accomplishments of students instead of being misused for religious proselytization.”