District cancels prayer at graduation after concern over separation of church and state

There is controversy in one area school district after a high school canceled prayer at last Friday's graduation.

It's the age old debate of separation of church and state.

At Pottsville Area High School's graduation Friday, a long standing tradition didn't happen.

"The board wrestled with this tremendously. In the end, we took the advice of our legal counsel. Again, doesn't mean we have to be happy with it at all,” Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Zwiebel said.

Zwiebel says invocation and benediction has been a part of graduation for as long as anyone can remember.

However, the board decided to cancel it during an emergency executive session last week after they received a letter from the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

"In the letter, they stated that one of our graduating seniors had lodged a complaint with them,” Zwiebel added.

In the letter, the foundation states, "the prayer at Friday's graduation must be canceled. The Supreme Court has continually struck down school-sponsored religious messages at school events, including specifically at graduations."

It also states, "our purpose is to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church..."

"We certainly also understand the separation of church and state. I'm not afraid to say, I pray for the students, staff and parents of this school district and of this community. I'm not afraid to say that. I think it's important. And I'll continue to do that every day,” Zwiebel said.

Around Pottsville Tuesday, people we spoke to seemed to agree the prayer should stay.

"I thought it was really stupid because some people are very religious, I mean some people aren't, but it doesn't mean they have to believe in it just to believe it,” student Cyla Rose said.

In addition to prayer at graduation, students organize a baccalaureate each year.

The foundation says the school must no longer sponsor it.

It's unclear if or where it'll take place next year.

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