The district had already voted once to drop the prayer at graduation, but members later backed off and said it would allow seniors to vote on the issue. The students voted last week, but after Tuesday's decision the results won't make any difference.
Dozens of people filled the special meeting. From the beginning, it was clear nearly all were in support of prayer at graduation. "My God doesn't answer to the 9th District Court of Appeals. My God doesn't answer to the Supreme Court," said parent Walter Weaver.
Exeter resident Leo Havner told board members he had a message from God to deliver to the board. "He said, I want you to warn them they'll bring their vote to judgment. Your vote will go to judgment with you. That's from God!" said Havner.
Exeter High School's graduation ceremony is scheduled for Friday evening, but a complaint against the long-standing tradition came months ago. To date, three organizations have sent the district letters warning such prayers violate a student's constitutional rights, regardless of a student vote. At Tuesday's board meeting, an attorney for the district showed board members and the public how the Supreme Court agrees. "If a school board were to decide to allow prayer at graduation, I think you're inviting litigation. And I think you would lose. The district would lose," said attorney Mike Smith.
Emotions were high throughout the meeting. Only one woman who addressed the board opposed prayer at the ceremony. "I don't think the majority in this particular situation should be allowed to force their views on the minority," said parent Pam Pescosolido.
In the end, the board members voted 3 to 2 to replace a prayer with a moment of silence. Now, it's hoped the attention will shift back to the graduates.
The results of the student vote still aren't known. During Tuesday's meeting, a couple of parents said they'd support two graduation ceremonies in order to not offend students who object to prayer. Several also made it known their fight for prayer isn't over yet.