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Utah Student Defies Ban, Offers Graduation Prayer

June 8, 1991

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ A student leader who defied a school district ban and offered a prayer at his high school graduation says ″you’ve got to do what you think is right.″

″They told me not to say a prayer. But that’s a crock,″ Josh Peterson, student body president of Bingham High School, said after Thursday’s commencement.

The Jordan School District board banned graduation prayer in 1989 after two students sued over the practice.

The constitutionality of prayer at high school graduations is expected to be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court this fall in a Rhode Island case.

The Utah American Civil Liberties Union is backing a similar lawsuit against two Utah school districts, but proceedings have been postponed pending resolution of the Rhode Island case.

Since the ACLU suit, the state’s 40 districts have established individual policies regarding the practice.

Peterson, 17, said he decided to offer the prayer shortly after he began his prepared remarks.

″I said this: ’If I could say a prayer, this is what I would say,‴ Peterson said. Then he delivered what observers called a traditional Mormon Church invocation.

The audience was shocked at first. But, after senior class president Brandon Julio praised the prayer, the crowd gave him a standing ovation, said Kevin Thompson, one of Bingham’s two valedictorians.

″I’ve been thinking about it since last year. It took me a while, but I just finally decided you’ve got to do what you think is right,″ Peterson said. ″I didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I’m not sorry for what I did. It’s tradition, for crying out loud.″

Bingham Principal Denny Carlisle did not admonish Peterson for the incident, and stopped short of saying he had violated the district’s prayer policy.