An atheist group has objected to a high school in a small southern Alabama town including prayers and references to God at graduation events, reports AL.com. But a conservative group is coming to the school’s defense.
The Freedom From Religious Foundation sent a letter dated June 5 to Opp City Schools finding fault with the May 21 baccalaureate service at the Opp High School auditorium, and also the graduation ceremony held at a later date at the football stadium.
The letter noted that the school principal led students in prayer at the baccalaureate service, and that administrators scheduled a student prayer at the graduation ceremony, where the principal’s speech included references to God and prayer.
“We ask that you cease sponsorship and hosting of future baccalaureate services occurring in the District, that you ensure that no prayers are scheduled for future high school graduation ceremonies or any other school-sponsored events occurring in the District and that you inform us in writing of the steps the District is taking to respect the right of conscience of each of its students,” said the letter from the atheist group, which is headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin.
Opp City Schools Superintendent Michael Smithart told AL.com that the letter has been turned over to the school board attorney. He confirmed to WSFA News 12 that the attorney is researching the issue, but that the Opp Ministerial Association plans to keep sponsoring the baccalaureate services at the high school.
A baccalaureate service historically was a religious ceremony, often held in a church, but has changed over time and become more secular in nature.
The Foundation for Moral Law, a group based in Montgomery, Alabama, sent Smithart a letter Tuesday offering the district legal support, according to WSFA News 12. The letters says there is precedent for holding a baccalaureate service on school grounds and that prayers at graduation ceremonies can be constitutional if it’s made clear that people in attendance are not compelled to join in them.
The Foundation for Moral Law was founded by former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who is now running for U.S. Senate.