Prayer At Graduation Needs Attention Now


September 08, 1991|By Sharon Hornberger

A paradoxical situation exists in our nation, and in May of this year it came to a head in Carroll County.

The Congress of the United States opens its daily sessions with a prayer, led by the chaplain ofthe Senate or House of Representatives. These chaplains are staff members of either the House or Senate. Their salaries are paid by you and me, the taxpayers of this nation.

The General Assembly of Maryland opens every session of the Senate and House of Delegates with prayer, led by either a member of the body or a religious representative invited by a member of that body.

At least one of the municipalities in our county opens each sessionof its council by reciting the Lord's Prayer.

The Supreme Court of this nation has declared "legislative ceremonial prayers" constitutional.

Every time you spend any money in this nation, your hand touches the phrase, "In God We Trust."

Our Pledge of Allegiance to the flag states that we are "one nation, under God."

In 1956, the Congress of this nation passed legislation authorizing this acknowledgment of a Supreme Being.

During the trying time of Desert Shield and Desert Storm, President Bush urged the citizens of our nation to join with him in praying for the safety of our troops. He invited the Rev. Billy Graham, a preacher known worldwide, to be with him in the White House and lead him in prayer and meditation before making the decision of committing our men and women to battle.

The president was acknowledged as a pious man, and millions of Americans went to thechurches of their choice and joined him in prayer.

Yet . . . the Supreme Court of this nation has declared that prayer in schools is unconstitutional.

In May of this year, the senior class of North Carroll High School was unable to have the minister of its choice attend graduation and lead the graduates and their guests in prayers of invocation and benediction -- prayers that acknowledge the giving of thanks and recognizing a blessing having been given.

The minister was reminded of the Carroll County Board of Education guidelines regarding religious neutrality.

What are these guidelines and how do they affect graduation ceremonies?

The guidelines were established bythe board in compliance with the 1971 case of Lemon vs. Kurtzman. Ceremonies, celebrations, assemblies or any other school-sponsored event "must not either advance or inhibit religion, they must not foster an excessive entanglement between government and religion, and religion must be of a secular purpose."

The invited minister felt that these guidelines limited his religious freedom, guaranteed under the Constitution, and declined the invitation that had been extended by the graduates.

This incident caused a flurry of comment in our localpress. Concerned citizens on both sides of the religious freedom issue wrote letters to the editor. Editors wrote their opinions. Political cartoonists sharpened their pencils and made their own comments.

Now is the time for the entire community and the school board to address this important question. Now . . . not next spring when high school graduations are being planned.

Now is the time when consideration should be given to what can be said and by whom to further express the thanksgiving felt by and for the graduates and their families.

As I see it, there is no difference between the prayers offered by a legislative body prior to the opening of their sessions and a ceremonial prayer of invocation offered by a member of a graduating class or a person members have selected to offer such a prayer at graduation exercises.

In both cases the prayer is intended to solemnize the occasion, not indoctrinate the attendees. It is time the Supreme Court revisited this issue and addressed the paradoxical situation it has created for this county and every other school district in this nation. It is time for the Supreme Court to reconsider the inconsistency of its decisions in this matter.

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