In Jesus' Name

What's wrong with a little prayer?


I sat through last year's graduation ceremony at Dorman High School, a class of about 450 people. A good many of them were non-Christians, including the valedictorian. In fact, in the top 10 of the graduating class there were five I know are not Christian.

    When a student got up to give the invocation, however, we were led in a prayer that was very much Christian. "In Jesus' name we pray" stands out in my mind.

    That made me angry. I thought it was inconsiderate and inappropriate, if not illegal. I resolved to do something about it so that it wouldn't happen at my graduation, because I too am a non-Christian.

    I have heard before that if I don't like it I should go back to where I came from. But I am as American as they come, a lifelong resident of the Bible Belt.

    The senior class at Dorman votes every year on whether to pray at graduation, but I am opposed to the idea -- whether the majority of students vote for it or not. I certainly believe that the majority rules, but when the rule of the majority encroaches upon the rights of the minority, it should not prevail.

    Henry David Thoreau wrote, "The practical reason why a majority are permitted to rule is not because they are most likely to be in the right, nor because this seems fairest to the minority, but because they are physically the strongest.

    "Any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one."

    The main reasons settlers came here in the first place was to escape religious persecution. Have we forgotten that?

    In my opinion, if there is a single person attending the graduation ceremony who is not Christian, the prayer is not fair. Non-Christian students have a right to attend their graduation ceremony without having to sit through a Christian prayer.

    Yes, the First Amendment guarantees free speech and free exercise of religion; but what is often forgotten is that your right to say something is no more important than my right not to hear it.

    The ceremony is not mandatory, but I have a right to attend it as much as anyone, and I should be able to enjoy it free from such preaching -- as the Supreme Court agreed in the 1992 case of Lee vs. Weisman.

    We start the school day with a moment of silence to be used for prayer, meditation, or whatever students wish. Why cannot a moment of silence policy be adopted for graduation as well? It won't hurt Christians not to pray out loud. Surely the Christian majority is considerate enough to realize that theirs is not the only religion.

    Prayer at graduation is illegal if it is endorsed by the school, according to the Supreme Court. A prayer cannot be on the agenda, and the school cannot select a person to speak specifically for the purpose of praying.

    As the Court stated in 1992 and numerous other decisions, such practices are opposed to the spirit of the First Amendment, which the Court put in Thomas Jefferson's words as "intended to erect a wall of separation between church and state.'"

    In Reynolds vs. United States (1879), the Court stated: "The Amendment's purposewas to create a complete and permanent separation of the spheres of religious activity and civil authority by comprehensively forbidding every form of public aid or support for religion."

    I think prayer at graduation qualifies as public support for religion.


    James Sloan is a resident of the Inman community of Spartanburg County, and is a senior at Dorman High School.

© Copyright by POINT, 1997
Last modified 4/14/97