ADF letter urges WVU-Parkersburg to reinstate prayers at graduation ceremony
PARKERSBURG, W.V. — The Alliance Defense Fund sent West Virginia University-Parkersburg officials a letter Monday urging them to restore the traditional invocation and benediction to the nursing program’s pinning ceremony, which is scheduled for Thursday. School officials originally told graduating students that a majority vote would determine whether prayers would be allowed, but after 90 percent of students voted to include the prayers, the university said that only a unanimous vote would have secured their inclusion.
“America’s Founding Fathers regularly opened official public ceremonies with prayer, and federal appeals courts have consistently ruled that universities can do the same at their graduation ceremonies,” said ADF Litigation Counsel Travis Barham. “These prayers have been constitutional for centuries, and this type of religious expression is still protected by the First Amendment today. The U.S. Constitution has never required universities to purge public ceremonies of all things religious.”
When WVU-Parkersburg nursing students voted 40 to 4 to include prayer in Thursday’s pinning ceremony, university officials responded by banning prayer completely because the vote was not unanimous. Students voted after being told that the majority would decide the issue, but campus officials reneged, citing legal concerns--particularly potential lawsuits that could be waged by anyone offended by the prayers.
ADF attorneys point out in their letter that nothing in the U.S. Constitution prohibits such prayers in university ceremonies. They explain that the phrase “separation of church and state” appears nowhere in the Constitution and that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment does not prohibit prayers at university graduations but instead actually protects them.
“Federal appellate courts have unanimously upheld clergy-led prayers at university graduation ceremonies, and literally decades of Supreme Court precedent holds that the government may not ban speech--including religious speech--merely because some people might find it offensive,” the ADF letter states.
In a separate but similar situation, ADF sent a letter to Mohave Community College in Arizona in May, resulting in school officials retracting their ban on the invocation and benediction at its nursing program’s pinning ceremony.
- Pronunciation guide: Barham (BEAR’-um), name (phonetic spelling)
ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.