Student-led prayer at high school graduation is a legal option that should be afforded seniors planning commencement services. Most, if not all, would handle the issue with propriety, respect and sensitivity if agenda-driven adults stayed out of the way. District and school administrators should allow them that flexibility.
Of course, some students and class officers might opt not to pray while others would pursue the issue. Neither alternative is inherently right or wrong. The key is there should be choice - a fact with which most Utahns agree.Court and administrative decisions in recent years have expanded the dubious freedom from religion while stifling legitimate freedom of religious expression. This while a plethora of profanity and obscenity has been given blanket First-Amendment protection without regard to ill effects. The pendulum has swung too far toward protecting the profane while religious rights that merit safeguarding have been ignored due to misinterpretations of the concept of church-state separation. The legal scale needs adjustment and rebalancing.
Several congressional efforts toward that end are under way, including a proposed Religious Freedom Amendment sponsored by Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla. The measure responds to a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that deemed a rabbi's prayer at high school graduation "psychological coercion" and unconstitutional. It would, among other things, allow prayer on public property including schools.
A recent Deseret News survey showed 77 percent agree that prayers should be permitted during high school graduation. Unfortunately, given the current legal and political climate, 66 percent are doubtful the amendment will pass.
That aside, there is currently legal ambiguity regarding student-led prayer at commencement. One appeals court ruled against it while another ruled in favor. The Supreme Court has yet to render a verdict either way. To pass muster, prayers must be planned and led by students and not by parents, teachers or administrators.
Prayer formalizes a graduation ceremony and adds dignity and solemnity to a momentous occasion. Divine petitions should not be prescribed, nor should prayers be limited to expressions of a dominant religious faith. Just as there are multiple speakers, prayers could be interwoven tastefully throughout graduations to accommodate various legitimate pupil interests.
Again, students could and would determine propriety if given the opportunity. They should have that choice and be free to exercise it.