Lord's Prayer can't be sung at Iowa high school graduation

By The Associated Press

Editor's note: The Associated Press reported May 14 that the Woodbine School District wouldn't appeal U.S. District Judge Charles Wolle's decision to ban the singing of the Lord's Prayer at graduation ceremonies May 19. The school board, after meeting in executive session for two hours May 14, decided not to challenge the judge's ruling, said Superintendent Terry Hazard.

The Lord's Prayer cannot be sung at Woodbine High School graduation ceremonies on May 19, a federal judge has ruled.

The 30-year tradition is a violation of the First Amendment, whether or not most Woodbine students, choir members and parents want it, U.S. District Judge Charles Wolle said May 10 in a six-page written opinion.

"Our Constitution prohibits state-compelled religious conformance," Wolle wrote. The ruling bans the choir from singing the Lord's Prayer at graduation ceremonies or rehearsing the song for graduation ceremonies, as long as Ruby Skarin and her twin brother, Donovan, are students at Woodbine High School.

The Iowa Civil Liberties Union sued the school district on behalf of the Skarins, who are sophomores at Woodbine and come from an atheist family.

Ruby Skarin, 14, testified May 9 that she felt uncomfortable singing the Lord's Prayer at last year's graduation ceremony.

"The principal effect of having the choir sing 'The Lord's Prayer' is to advance the Christian religion," Wolle wrote.

Choir director Jo Schmitz had said the Skarins could have made up the required performance with an alternate activity.

That doesn't fix the problem, Wolle said.

"The school cannot ... force a student to choose between attending and participating in school functions and attending only to avoid personally offensive religious rituals," he wrote.

Superintendent Terry Hazard had testified May 9 that it was not the school's intent to endorse Christianity. Hazard did not immediately return a telephone message for this article. A phone message left for school board president Randy Pryor was not immediately returned.

The ICLU issued a written statement calling the ruling a victory for religious freedom and tolerance.

"It is our hope that the residents of Woodbine can accept this decision and move on in a spirit of harmony, respecting their neighbors regardless of their religious choices, and enjoying the many benefits of living in a small Iowa town," the statement said.

Woodbine is a town of about 1,500 about 30 miles northeast of Council Bluffs.