ATLANTA (AP) -- A Florida school system's policy allowing student-approved prayers during graduation ceremonies violates constitutional protections of freedom of religion, a federal appeals court ruled.
The 2-1 decision by a panel of the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturns a ruling that students have a First Amendment right to pray at graduation, though schools can't force them to.The Duval County, Fla., school system adopted a policy allowing high school students to select by majority vote a graduation message to be delivered by a student. Those messages -- often prayers -- could not be censored by school officials.
The appeals court ruled Tuesday that graduation ceremonies are still controlled by the schools, and graduating students who object to the prayers have no alternative but to attend.
"We hold that the Duval County school system's policy coerces objecting students to participate in prayer," Chief Judge Joseph W. Hatchett wrote in the majority opinion.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Stanley Marcus argued that the majority wrongly interprets the Supreme Court's ban on school prayer "by somehow transforming a private speaker into a state actor and a student's message into the state establishment of religion."