LAKE HAVASU CITY, Ariz. — Arizona’s Mohave Community College agreed Tuesday–after receiving a letter from the Alliance Defense Fund–not to eliminate the opening and closing prayers from its nursing program’s pinning ceremony this year. School officials originally removed the traditional invocation and benediction–which had been permitted since 1972–from its protocol for ceremonies this year, but reinstated it after a graduating speaker contacted ADF.
Both elements, removed because of an all-too-common misunderstanding of the First Amendment, were allowed and exercised during the ceremony, which took place Wednesday.
“America’s Founding Fathers regularly opened official public ceremonies with prayer. Certainly students at public universities today should be able to do the same,” said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Travis Barham. “The college should be commended for quickly restoring the prayers to the pinning ceremony. The First Amendment protects religious expression just like other forms of speech; it does not require university officials to purge public ceremonies of all things religious.”
Velta Soto, a graduating student and speaker at the pinning ceremony for Mohave Community College’s nursing program on Wednesday, faced censorship when school officials decided to prohibit the traditional invocation and benediction at this year’s pinning ceremony–citing apparent “legal precedence” that “church and state should remain separate.” After being contacted by Soto, ADF attorneys informed college officials in a letter that the newly adopted policy actually exceeded what the First Amendment requires. The college then changed course and reinstated the tradition.
“In reality, the phrase ‘separation of church and state’ does not appear anywhere in the Constitution,” ADF attorneys stated in the letter. “The First Amendment merely states: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…’ In fact, both federal appellate courts that have considered prayers [during commencement exercises] at colleges and universities… ruled that those prayers comply with the First Amendment.”
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.