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U.S. Judge Bars Saying of Prayer at Iowa High School Graduation

May 10, 1985|Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa — A federal judge on Thursday barred an Iowa high school from including a prayer in its graduation ceremony this weekend, even though most students consider the invocation "a cherished tradition."

U.S. District Judge Harold Vietor said that the prayer proposed at Leon High School would violate the First Amendment's separation of church and state.

Vietor said that, even if most of the 49 graduates want to include a prayer in the commencement exercises, "the enforcement of constitutional rights is not subject to the pleasure of the majority."

"The Constitution protects all of us, including those in the minority," Vietor said.

The judge prohibited the Central Decatur school system from including a three-minute prayer in the Leon High graduation Sunday.

Rebecca Graham, one of the seniors, had objected to the prayer and filed the suit, contending that the school system was promoting a particular brand of religion. She was represented by the Iowa Civil Liberties Union.

School attorneys said that most of Leon's 2,000 residents supported the prayers, which are considered "a cherished tradition."

Mark Bennett, Graham's attorney, said that he was "obviously very, very pleased" by the decision and that the Graham family was "very, very excited."

Lee Elson, the school district's attorney, would not say whether he would appeal.

A woman answering the phone at the Graham residence said neither Graham nor her parents were available for comment.

The Rev. Richard Speight, a Methodist minister who was scheduled to give the prayer, said that the commencement will proceed without a prayer.

"The plans as I understand them (are) to go ahead with the commencement . . . except there will be no invocation," Speight said. "I won't be there to pray. I'll be there in the audience."

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