U.S. District Judge Bruce Howe Hendricks, an Obama-era appointee, ruled on Thursday that Greenville County Schools cannot sponsor the prayers of individual students by asking the audience to bow their heads or seeming to show support in any way for the act of faith.
“The district and/or school officials shall not encourage, promote, advance, endorse, or participate in causing prayers during any graduation ceremony,” Henricks wrote. “In the event that a student’s remarks contain prayer, no school officials shall join in or otherwise participate in the prayer.”
The decision also includes proscriptions against hymns and spiritual songs in graduation ceremonies, and requires school officials to excise prayers from the program when they have been submitted by students for review prior to the ceremony, leaving all expressions of faith at the discretion of individual students who wish to stand alone.
A 2013 lawsuit by the American Humanist Association on behalf of parents of a student at Mountain View Elementary School in Travelers Rest, piqued by two students who prayed at a school program, was the origin of the decision.