More than two-thirds of all public high school districts responding to a recent survey included prayer as part of their graduation activities last year.
More than 1,000 school districts out of 1,491 responding to the survey said prayer was included either in the graduation ceremony or in a separate baccalaureate service not sponsored by the school. The survey was conducted by the Gallup organization for Phi Delta Kappa, a professional educators' society.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 1992 barred sponsored prayer at public high school graduation ceremonies. Religious and civil liberties groups disagree about whether schools can assist graduates in including a student-led prayer. The ruling said nothing about separate baccalaureate services.
Nearly one-fourth of the school districts reporting prayer at graduation said an adult had been invited to deliver the prayer. Where students delivered the prayer, 101 school districts said the prayers came as a “surprise” to the superintendent. But 92 districts said the wording of the student prayers had been approved in advance.
“It is clear from this survey,” the authors of an article about the survey commented, “that court decisions seeking to limit prayer at formal public school commencements have not fully succeeded in doing so.” Survey Results Prayer included in graduation activities:
At separate baccalaureate service 654 (43.8%)
At graduation ceremony 684 (45.8%)
At both baccalaureate or graduation
service 1,066 (71.4%) Prayer at graduation ceremony:
Adult invited to give prayer 161
Student offered prayer 526
Total (adult and/or student led; 3
schools had both) 684 Prayer at graduation ceremony (adult or student led) by region:
There are 15,173 school districts in the U.S.
Martha W. McCarthy and Larry W. Barber, “Much Ado Over Graduation Prayer,” Phi Delta Kappan, October 1993, p. 120.