Arkansas School District Cancels Graduation Rather Than Allow Prayer

Debate over prayer in school made headlines again, this time in the Riverside School District in Lake City, Ark. Its school board voted on Monday to cancel its sixth grade ceremony rather than to allow prayer to be a part of the ceremony.

Controversy over whether or not prayer would be allowed resulted from an April 15 letter from the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, on behalf of an anonymous "concerned parent." The Foundation's mission is to "promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism."

The Foundation wrote, "As you may be aware, the Supreme Court has continually struck down prayers at school-sponsored events, including public school graduations. A prayer taking place at a 'regularly scheduled school-sponsored function conducted on school property' would lead an objective observer to perceive it as state endorsement of religion ... We request Written assurances that Riverside Public Schools is taking the appropriate steps to ensure that religious rituals are not part of graduation ceremonies or any other school-sponsored events."

In response, the Riverside School District publicly stated that "for several years the district personnel had discussed whether we should continue with sixth grade graduation or not." At its most recent meeting, the School Board voted "to no longer sponsor the 6th grade graduation."

Parent Kelly Adams was one of many parents who attended the School Board meeting and was upset with the vote. "We serve a God. And we should have the right to serve that God anywhere," she said, according to a video posted by local ABC Kait8 channel. Adams' daughter graduated last year from sixth grade and closed the ceremony in prayer. Her son is part of this year's sixth grade graduating class.

On the Alice Stewart Show, 96.5 FM, the local Fox News Radio station, the Rev. Arthur Hunt Jr. of Hunt Memorial Cathedral of Faith argued that, "God is in school forever. Our Constitution allows us to see our purpose in this nation of being under God," referring to the Pledge of Allegiance, in which students state, "one nation under God."

"God is everywhere, from home, to school, to community," Hunt said. "God is in too many bus drivers, He's in too many teachers, too many janitors, principles, athletes, songs, plays, He's in too many civic and history books, where the president and governor refer to God.

"Do we want to wait for another bomb or a mass shooting before the assembly and prays again?"

Several mothers have gathered to organize a sixth grade graduation at a local church, which has yet to be announced. Adams said, "Everyone is invited to come. We want everyone to be a part of it. We're not trying to be pushy or ugly to anybody. We just want them to know that there is a God who loves them."

Graduation is scheduled for May 23.