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Hines: No Prayers, Hymns at Houston Graduations This Year | Schools

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Hines: No Prayers, Hymns at Houston Graduations This Year
Schools

STORY HIGHLIGHTS:

- Last year, a group of religious skeptics challenged the practice of public prayer at Houston County's graduations.

- Houston County superintendent Robin Hines says there will be no school-sponsored prayers this year.

- The Freedom from Religion Foundation says it represented eight Houston County families in their complaint.

Houston County's school superintendent says the programs for this year's graduations won't feature any prayers or hymns, due to complaints about last year's.

Robin Hines said the district won't sponsor any prayers or hymns. Music at the events will be "inspirational" but not religious.

He said the district doesn't want to break the law.

Last year, the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation filed a complaint with the Houston schools against prayers at its 2012 graduations.

The religious skeptics' group argued that prayers and other illegal religious observances are widespread in Houston County's public schools.

Federal courts have ruled that school-sponsored prayer in public schools violates the First Amendment.

The group wrote a followup letter to William Jerles, the district's lawyer describing what they call "rampant and egregious violations."

They said eight Houston County families came forward, each one describing "multiple violations."

The group would not identify those families, due to the "virulent and hostile response" to their first letter."

But a North Carolina man told 13WMAZ last year that he filed the initial complaint after attending his niece's graduation.

Hines said Wednesday that he hasn't heard from any of the families that filed complaints and he has not made a written response to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

However, Hines said the most important thing to focus on is the kids.
"This is an exciting time. It's a culmination of 13 years of hard work
for these students."

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, said people can pray silently and quietly at a public school ceremony but should not impose that ritual on others.

"They [people who founded America] did not want to be told who to worship, or how to worship or who to give tithes to," said Gaylor. "And when they send their children to public schools they don't send them to the schools to be indoctrinated-but to be educated."

Gaylor said the organization plans to notify other schools within Georgia. "We've sent out mass letters to superintendents in places like Kentucky and Tennessee and I don't think we've sent all the school districts in Georgia a reminder. And that is probably something that we should be doing at this time of year, letting them know the clear law against religious devotions in public schools."

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