This fall the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether prayer at graduation exercises is constitutional. But for this year's graduation exercises, local school districts will have to fend for themselves.
However, with the Supreme Court decision pending, local school districts really only face two issues.One is a threat from the American Civil Liberties Union to sue any district that allows prayer at graduation. The other is Attorney General Paul Van Dam's "cease-fire" request for districts to hold off on prayer at this year's ceremonies.
It appears that local districts are not scared by either Van Dam's request or the ACLU's threat. All three districts will likely have prayer at graduation exercises two months from now.
For Alpine School District, the ACLU threat has no bearing because the district is one of two Utah districts already being sued over graduation prayer. And Alpine officials call Van Dam's request more of a surrender than a compromise.
"We find nothing in Mr. Van Dam's statement that would cause us to reconsider our position at this time," Superintendent Steven Baugh said. "The Supreme Court decision to review the case suggests that our stance may indeed have merit."
Alpine policy allows each school's graduation committee to decide whether to offer prayer at the graduation ceremony. Van Dam's statement, district officials say, will result in no changes being made to that policy.
"We have every intent of continuing our long-standing tradition of allowing prayer at graduation," Baugh said.
Nebo and Provo school districts have no policy on graduation prayer, but both give schools the same option as Alpine. Despite Van Dam's request and the ACLU's threat, officials from both districts say past practice will likely continue.
"I have not heard of any change in our position at this time," Provo Superintendent Kay Laursen said. "It's been up to the students and administration at each school to plan the graduation program. And so far, nothing has been said to change that."
"We've always left it up to the graduation committees in each of the communities," Nebo Superintendent Denis Poulsen said. "They are aware of what's going on and maybe they will decide to do something."
However, both Nebo and Provo's stance could change before graduation arrives. Laursen said the Provo School Board may discuss the issue before then and Poulsen said the Nebo School Board may do the same. But until told otherwise, both said it will be up to the schools to decide.
"I'm sure that if the board decides to do something, then the schools would do whatever the board asked them to do," Laursen said.
Though not involved in a lawsuit at this time, Nebo's and Provo's situations are not much different from Alpine's. Even if they do allow prayer and are sued by the ACLU, they will likely never end up in court. Like Alpine, any suit would likely be decided through the pending Supreme Court decision.