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Religious Liberty
An American Heritage

Students Regain the Freedom to Pray

Through a recent ruling by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, graduating seniors were granted the right to deliver messages, including prayer, during their graduation ceremonies.

The long-awaited court decision was based upon a 1993 school board ruling which awarded high school seniors the opportunity to present a 2-minute uncensored message at graduation. In the first ceremony to practice the testimoneys, some students participated and others declined. Among those who spoke, a handful gave religious messages; resulting in a lawsuit by a few students and their families because of their objection to the freedom of religious speech.

Mat Staver of the Liberty Counsel defended the students being sued on the grounds that their freedom of speech, granted by the First Amendment, had been violated. The case had moved all the way to the Supreme Court who refused it; sending it back to the Appeals Court with instruction to review the case again based upon the Supreme Court ruling against school prayer at Texas football games. However, instead of following the Supreme Court's precedent against public religious expression at school ceremonies, the Appeals Court ruled in favor of the students' right to freedom of speech.

According to Staver, "I am elated with this victory. Students do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or freedom of religion when they enter the graduation podium. He added, "(Schools) should not get into the business of censoring students' speech simply because the message is religious. Of all places, public schools should accommodate students. Public schools should foster the free exchange of ideas - even controversial ones."

Reverend Jerry Falwell, pastor and national figure in Christian political circles, also commented on the case, "Free speech is no longer free when it is continuously dissected and redefined in order to promote a politically-correct agenda and to silence those whose beliefs may be unpopular."

(Rev. Jerry Falwell, "A Victory for Graduation Prayer," WorldNetDaily.com, May 19, 2001)

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