NASHVILLE — No prayers at high school graduation ceremonies and no discrimination against teenage gay and lesbian couples wishing to attend proms.
That’s the message the American Civil Liberties Union-Tennessee is sending to the state’s 136 school superintendents and student groups in the form of a “briefing paper.”
“Keeping Graduation & Prom Inclusive” is intended to outline what graduation and prom activities in public schools “are and are not permissible,” the ACLU-TN says in a news release.
The group says the list is based on guarantees of the Bill of Rights and federal court decisions.
The ACLU-TN says the briefing paper was prepared to provide “constitutionally-sound guidelines” for school administrators and teachers and “to clarify any confusion in the public schools regarding religious activities at graduation or the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender students at prom.”
A letter accompanying the guide says the U.S. Supreme Court has long held that prayers at public school graduation ceremonies, even when nonsectarian or nonproselytizing, violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
ACLU-TN Executive Director Hedy Weinberg said the absence of graduation prayer doesn’t stop students from “affirming their religious beliefs before or after the ceremony in privately-sponsored baccalaureate services” if they are held separately, are “entirely voluntary” and are not sponsored or supervised by school officials.
The ACLU-TN briefing paper also says the First and Fourteenth Amendments guarantee that same-sex couples cannot be barred from attending a prom and that female students cannot be barred from wearing tuxedos to the prom.
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