Pikeville schools respond to graduation prayers complaint

PIKEVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The Pikeville Independent School District is considering whether prayers can be allowed at graduation ceremonies after receiving a letter of complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, WYMT-TV reported.

The Wisconsin-based group said it received complaints following the Pikeville High School Class of 2020′s graduation. In a statement, the foundation said three students from the graduating class led Christian prayers during the July ceremony. That “alienates the 38% of younger Americans who are not religious," the statement read. "The Supreme Court has continually struck down religious rituals and prayers at school-sponsored events, including public school graduations.”

Pikeville Independent Schools Superintendent David Trimble told the station the district has been working with its legal team to determine how to handle future events. The school district wants to "make sure that we’re doing things the appropriate way while also protecting the freedoms and rights of those who are involved in them,” he said.

Trimble said that student-led prayer was part of the event, although the Christian quotes mentioned by the Freedom From Religion Foundation were mostly from speech given by one of the students.

“For us, for 150 years now this has been a student-led ceremony,” Trimble said. “The involvement of any adults is simply saying the names, confirming the class, and giving the perfect attendance award and handing diplomas.”

With a year before the next graduation, Trimble said he believes the district will have time to figure out what works best for all students.

“We always want people to be comfortable. We always want people to know that’s important to us,” Trimble said. “However, it also is very important that we protect the rights and the freedoms of our students and those who are involved in that graduation ceremony.”

According to the foundation, the district’s attorney has advised the high school principal to refrain from religious prayer at future graduations.

“The culmination of 13 years of secular education should end not in divisive and exclusionary prayer, but in a celebration that welcomes all students and participants,” Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor in the statement.

Foundation attorney Brendan Johnson, who wrote the letter to the district, said the group is not trying to stop people from practicing their religion.

“I wouldn’t want to live in a country where people weren’t free to practice as they please,” Johnson said. “We’re just trying to prevent the government from taking sides and giving its power and stamp of approval to certain religions over others, or over the prospect of not being religious at all.”