STANORD, KY – It’s what you might call a joyful noise.
Audience members cheered and rose to their feet after a high school student in Kentucky led a prayer during his graduation ceremony Friday, despite efforts to silence him and his First Amendment Rights.
Jonathan Hardwick, senior class president of Lincoln County High School in Stanford, gave attendees the option to participate in the prayer. The auditorium went quiet, and the young man thanked the Lord for helping everyone arrive safely to the event. “And thank You for the many blessings you have given us,” he continued. “Because we are a very talented class. … Will You watch over us and bless this ceremony?”
Six students — including at least one atheist — tried to stop the prayer by asking Principal Tim Godbey to prohibit it from going forward, according to The Advocate-Messenger. Godbey responded by noting that the U.S. Constitution protects the rights of students who wish to pray, as long as they are not disruptive.
A video of Hardwick’s prayer was posted to media websites Friday. So far, it has generated more than 50,000 views on YouTube alone.
“More and more students are learning what their religious freedoms are — and the fact that the government cannot censor voluntary and respectfully communicated personal expressions of faith or voluntary prayers, even during graduation speeches,” said CitizenLink Education Analyst Candi Cushman. “I think there is a renewal of bold expressions of religious speech — and students are leading the way in this.”
Cushman said Hardwick’s decision to pray is encouraging.
“Activist legal groups like the ACLU continue trying to intimidate schools,” she explained. “The truth is, that schools aren’t required to censor students’ voluntary references to faith.”
Public schools should remain neutral on the issue.
“Students have the freedom to take the initiative and voluntarily include religious references or a prayer in these situations, because that is the student’s own personal speech, not the school’s speech,” Cushman added. “The good news is, students themselves aren’t backing down. They are boldly exercising their free speech rights despite censorship efforts — and are succeeding.”