"Gray Area" of Baccalaureate Ceremonies in Michigan School Districts

June 2, 2003

Source: Ann Arbor News


On June 2, 2003 the Ann Arbor News reported that "there will be no public prayers when nearly 500 Howell High School seniors graduate Saturday... Such religious content is prohibited at commencement... But seniors did pray, read scripture and sing hymns Sunday afternoon in a Howell school auditorium at a graduation tradition known as a baccalaureate ceremony. It's an event ostensibly sponsored by the senior class and the Howell Ministerial Association - yet the school publicizes it and class advisers even help with planning... Schools that offer the services defend them in part by pointing to the optional nature of the events, which tend to attract between 30 and 75 percent of graduating seniors. School officials also say graduating students need closure, beyond the commencement ceremony, for their high school years... But those who criticize the tradition say such services may cross the line separating church and state... Frank Ravitch, an expert in school and religion issues and a law professor at Michigan State University, said that while prayer at graduation is unconstitutional, baccalaureate ceremonies fall into a gray area. 'If a school is endorsing them, or helping to support or sponsor them, that's unconstitutional,' he said."