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Parents ask for prayer at graduation ceremonies in St. Johns County

7:44 PM, Mar 12, 2013   |    comments
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ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. -- At Tuesday's St. Johns County school board meeting, a group of parents passed out buttons which said "Graduation Prayer? Freedom from Atheism."

Richard Anderson was one of two dozen people at the meeting who came to support prayer at graduation ceremonies.

"I hope this discussion does not become grid locked. I hope it's a decision of freedom of speech," Anderson said.

The group is asking the St. Johns County school board to adopt a policy allowing inspirational messages at graduations.

Legislators last year passed a bill regarding inspirational messages at school graduation, leaving it to the discretion of each school district to approve or deny.

Jim Bedsole is a parent and an attorney who spoke on behalf of the parents. He acknowledged that there are restrictions of what school districts can and cannot do.  He also said school districts have to remain neutral and noted, "the statute was passed to preserve neutrality. We're asking district to adopt a policy."

These supporters say, look at Duval County's policy which allows the senior class to vote if they want a student to say something expressive at graduation... which allows room for a prayer.

The St. Johns County school district's attorney, Frank Upchurch, said there is some concern about that.

"The idea is it's an open mic for the student which opens up all kinds of policy concerns and considerations," Upchurch pointed out.

However, this group of parents argues that  a prayer at graduation can be constitutional.

Kim Kendall, a parent said, "Prayer needs to be back and reinstated in graduation." She added, "There have been opinions that have gone askew from what our founding fathers originally intended."

Anderson said, "We are not invoking a particular religion. All we want to do is just be thankful to our creator."

Anderson hopes a prayer can be allowed by the time his son graduates this year.

The school board did not vote because this topic was not on the agenda.  But the superintendent and staff will now research the issue.

First Coast News

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