Liberty Alert

June 2, 2006          Hosted by World Observer

Liberty Counsel Intervenes on Behalf of Megan Chapman To Get Graduation Prayer Order Overturned

Russell Springs, KY – Today Liberty Counsel filed a Motion to Intervene on behalf of Megan Chapman in the case of John Doe v. Darren Gossage, in which Judge Joseph McKinley entered an emergency Order restraining the principal of Russell County High School from allowing prayer at the graduation ceremony that was to take place on May 19, 2006. The motion was filed on behalf of senior Megan Chapman to vacate the Order, in which she was specifically named.

Despite Judge McKinley’s Order barring Megan from including prayer at the graduation ceremony, the senior class of 196 students spontaneously stood during the opening remarks of the principal and began reciting the Lord’s Prayer. The thunderous applause drowned out the last part of the prayer from a standing-room-only crowd of over 3,000 attendees. The revival-like atmosphere continued when Megan said in her opening remarks that God had guided her since childhood. She was originally going to read a poem, but set it aside at the podium and “let God speak through me.” Megan was interrupted repeatedly during her speech by the cheering crowd, as she urged her classmates to trust in God as they go through life. Megan said the ceremony turned out better than it would have without the controversy. “More glory went to God because of something like that than if I had just simply said a prayer like I was supposed to.”

The evening before the ceremony, the seniors, acting on their own, conducted an election to determine whether they wanted a fellow classmate to deliver a message at the ceremony. Out of four nominees, Megan Chapman was overwhelmingly elected to give a message of her choice. Under the case of Adler v. Duval County School Board, students may vote to have a classmate deliver a message, the content of which is up to the elected individual. As long as the message is the choice of the student, and not of the school, the student speaker can present a message of his/her choice, either secular or religious. In this case, the message presented by Megan was her own choice; therefore, she had the right to deliver a message with religious themes. Liberty Counsel successfully defended the policy in the Adler case. That case went to the court of appeals five times and to the Supreme Court.

Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, stated: “Student speech delivered on religious themes during graduation, when the content is not compelled by school officials, is protected by the First Amendment. When students elect a classmate to give a message of his/her choice, it is unconstitutional to censor a religious viewpoint. Although the senior class eventually engaged in spontaneous prayer and Megan’s speech contained religious themes, the court should never have issued an Order instructing her not to pray. The court Order sought to restrain Megan’s speech without giving her notice or an opportunity to be heard. Megan will now have her day in court to make sure this temporary Order is permanently set aside.”

As part of its Friend or Foe Graduation Prayer Campaign, Liberty Counsel has a legal memo available at which addresses the law regarding graduation prayer.

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Liberty Counsel, headquartered in Orlando, Florida, is a nonprofit litigation, education and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the traditional family. On the campus of Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty Counsel's Center for Constitutional Litigation and Policy trains attorneys, law students, policymakers, legislators, clergy and world leaders in constitutional principles and government policies.

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