Student suing school district over pre-graduation prayer

Published: May. 31, 2012 at 3:01 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 13, 2013 at 8:41 PM EDT
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Max Nielson is suing Lexington-Richland School District Five for allowing prayer during...
Max Nielson is suing Lexington-Richland School District Five for allowing prayer during graduation.

IRMO, SC (WIS) - On Wednesday, Irmo High School graduates walked across the stage to start a new chapter, but there was at least one student who says for a few minutes he did not feel a part of the ceremony.

Max Nielson is suing Lexington-Richland School District Five for allowing prayer during graduation.  

"I didn't remove my cap," Nielson said. "I looked toward the superintendent and let the time pass. I was obviously not a part of that part of the graduation ceremony. The district didn't feel like it needed to find time for me and my non-religious or non-Christian friends."

For a few minutes before the graduates got their diplomas, the commencement prayer was read by a fellow student.

"It is very clear that this is at the very least a Judeo-Christian prayer," Nielson said. "It opens with an appeal to Father."

The 18-year-old said he felt uncomfortable.

"For that minute for me and the other non-theistic or non-Christian members of Irmo High School we were not welcome," Nielson said. "We were not included."

Nielson is an Atheist but says his lawsuit against the school district has nothing to do with religion.

"This is about a policy it's not about a prayer or a religion, it's about a policy that allows for the violation of student rights," Nielson said.

The district points to a policy that allows prayer at graduations if the students vote on it, which in this case, they did.

Nielson voted against the prayer when graduating seniors were given ballots earlier in the school year, but says he did not raise his concerns with district leaders earlier because he didn't know until recently that he could take legal action.

"The graduating class doesn't necessarily have the right to express their will when it conflicts with the rights of other students," Nielson said.

Nielson says a moment of silence would have been better where everyone could reflect on his or her own beliefs, but graduation has already happened and the prayer was prayed.

Nielson is now looking forward to attending the College of Charleston in the fall. He says the lawsuit isn't about him.

"It's the kind of thing that shouldn't be permitted to happen again," Nielson said. "I don't want my friends of future graduating classes -- and I have many of them who aren't necessarily religious -- to sit through those few minutes of graduation and feel like they aren't included."

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