After Complaint, Pennsylvania High School Ends Tradition of Graduation Prayer

By Mark Judge | May 31, 2016 | 9:42 AM EDT

(AP Photo)

There will be no invocation or benediction at this year’s Pottsgrove High School graduation, a change after years of tradition.

As reported in the Pottsgrove Mercury, the decision to stop the prayers was made last year. 

According to reporter Evan Brandt, the change apparently is the result of one student’s decision to invoke Jesus Christ in his comments at last year’s graduation. The school received an anonymous complaint.

“Last year’s was much more specifically religious than anything I had heard at Pottsgrove before,” Pottsgrove School Superintendent Shellie Feola told the Mercury. “I myself was kind of taken aback by the prayer,” she said. “Apparently, it struck a chord with someone who was at the ceremony and it was reported to me that there was a complaint.”

Feola consulted the district’s longtime Solicitor Marc Davis, who told her a 2000 ruling in California made the district’s practice illegal.

The graduation is scheduled for June 15. Feola noted that the senior class can organize a baccalaureate ceremony the night before.

“That is organized by the students, or a priest or religious person and that is not a school-sponsored event,” she said. “We allow them to use a school facility in the same way we would allow anyone else, even a church, to use the facility.”

Last week Justin Valentine, a former Pottsgrove School Board president, posted a message on Facebook in support of prayer. A minister at Kingdom Life Church in Pottstown, a town near Pottsgrove, Valentine posted a link to a story about a student protest at East Liverpool High School in Ohio, where a threatened lawsuit stopped a 70-year-old tradition of the school’s chorus singing “The Lord’s Prayer.” In response students stood and recited the Lord's Prayer.

On Facebook Valentine wrote:

I posted this article on the PGSD [Pottsgrove School District] discussion site. Prayer has always been apart [sic] of the graduation ceremony at Pottsgrove and in my four years on the board was always apart [sic] of the ceremony. My comments that I hope the tradition continues were DELETED from the PGSD Discussion page. Good for these students for taking a stand.