School scraps graduation song as too religious

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 7, 2003

WINDSOR (AP) – Two Windsor High School seniors who wanted to sing an inspirational song at their graduation next week will not be singing at all after school officials said the song was too religious.

Anna Ashby and Graylin Stokes volunteered to sing &uot;The Prayer,&uot; a song that’s been recorded by Christian singers but also by mainstream artists such as Celine Dion.

Allowing the song at graduation would have violated court rulings on the separation of church and state, said Isle of Wight Superintendent Michael McPherson.


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&uot;We’re not going to go against what we feel our legal obligations are,&uot; McPherson said.

Ashby, 18, said the song is more inspirational than religious and she has a First Amendment right to sing it.

&uot;The song isn’t really like ‘Holy God, praise you Jesus.’ It was meant to be an inspiration for our classmates,&uot; Ashby said.

A conservative legal group, the American Center for Law and Justice, looked into the case but backed off after the school dropped singing from the graduation program.

&uot;Students have no constitutional rights to have songs at their graduation,&uot; said Stuart Roth, senior counsel for the center.

&uot;The Prayer&uot; mentions God once and speaks of faith and the presence of a higher power. &uot;Lead us to a place, guide us with your grace. Give us faith so we’ll be safe,&uot; the lyrics say.

Bishop James R. Ashby, Anna’s father and pastor at Franklin Church of God, said he was disappointed and puzzled by the decision.

&uot;This is rural America,&uot; he said. &uot;This is not metropolitan USA. Religion is a vital part of the fabric of rural culture.&uot;

After Ashby and Stokes chose the song, Windsor principal William Owen gave the lyrics to McPherson several weeks ago. McPherson showed the lyrics to Isle of Wight School Board attorney H. Woodrow Crook, who told McPherson the song would violate the separation of church and state.