The prayerful protest by the students comes on the heels of a lawsuit the ACLU filed against the Santa Rosa County School District, claiming some of the teachers and administration endorsed religion. The suit was filed on behalf of two students, who said that the teachers were promoting their views of religion.
According to the ACLU lawsuit, graduation ceremonies during the past five years at Central, Jay, Milton, Navarre and Pace High Schools in the Santa Rosa District have included prayers by students – often members of groups like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes or the Christian World Order. The graduation ceremonies at Santa Rosa Adult School and Santa Rosa Learning Academy also have included prayers.
Leading up to the graduation ceremony, the ACLU demanded that Pace High School censor students from offering prayers or saying anything religious. In the end, members of the student body were not permitted to speak at the graduation.
The graduating class at the school, however, decided to react against the ACLU bullying by taking a stand at graduation. As soon as Principal Lay asked everyone to be seated at the ceremony, the graduating class remained standing and recited the Lord’s Prayer.
ACLU attorney Benjamin Stevenson told ABC Channel Three after the event: "Our feeling is that it's regrettable that the students took over the ceremony to impose their religious views on the audience who may not have shared the same religious views.
"School officials have a responsibility to protect the silently held religious views of others."
Stevenson said that something should have been done to stop the recitation of the Lord's Prayer and that it is too early to know whether the ACLU will pursue further legal action.
Mathew D. Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, commented: “Neither students nor teachers shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate. The students at Pace High School refused to remain silent and were not about to be bullied by the ACLU.
“We have decided to represent faculty, staff and students of Pace High School,” he said, “because the ACLU is clearly violating their First Amendment rights. Schools are not religion-free zones, and any attempt to make them so is unconstitutional.”