An Arkansas school district decided to cancel sixth grade graduation ceremonies after an out-of-state organization threatened to sue the school over a student-led graduation prayer, disappointing parents and students.
Tommy Knight, the superintendent of the Riverside School District in Lake City, confirmed to Fox News that graduation services at East and West Elementary schools had been cancelled.
The controversy was over prayer, he said.
“Those campuses for the last several years had discussed whether we should continue with sixth grade graduation or not. The controversy arose out of this one. When it came to my attention, the board and I decided to go ahead and discontinue sixth grade graduations.”
The school district had received a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation warning them that a student-led prayer during the ceremonies was a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Kelly Adams was one of many parents who attended a school board meeting on Monday when the decision was made.
“As Christians – and a mainly Christian town – I think, there were a lot of people hurt that our rights were taken away,” Adams told television station KAIT. “A lot of people were upset. A lot of moms were really upset and I was very upset.”
Adams said parents are hoping to have an alternative graduation ceremony for the children.
“We’re not trying to be pushy or ugly to anybody,” she said. ‘We just want them to know there is a God who loves them.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation said they were acting on behalf of an unidentified, “concerned parent.”
“It makes no difference how many families want prayer or wouldn’t be offended by prayer at their graduation ceremony,” wrote FFRF attorney Patrick Elliott. “The Supreme Court has settled this matter – school graduations must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students.”
Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United, told Fox News the school district’s response was foolish.
“When a school system is told not to include one item and then they get angry and frustrated and stop the entire rest of the ceremony – that is a foolish, ridiculous response,” Lynn said.
He said public schools should protect the Constitutional rights of all students.
“When the Constitution says you cannot have a prayer at a graduation, the answer is get rid of the prayer not get rid of the entire graduation for all of the children,” he said.