The valedictorian of East Liverpool High School led his class in a recitation of the Lord's Prayer during commencement despite the demands of an atheist group, which ordered the school to turn away from the 70-year-old tradition.
According to NBC, earlier this year, the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation, the nation's largest atheist organization, complained about the tradition, prompting East Liverpool's school administrators to remove the Christian prayer from the ceremony.
However, class Valedictorian Jonathan Montgomery had other ideas, and took the stage and led the entire class in reciting the prayer at the graduation ceremony, local news station KFOR.com reports.
"Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name," the graduates declared in unison. "Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven."
The students' decision to recite the prayer despite backlash from the atheist group led to resounding applause from the stands.
"We're really big at traditions at this school and I think it would've been nice to have the same as my brother had whenever he graduated," Student Vice President Cami Post was quoted as saying.
Last year, a parent of a student at East Liverpool High School contacted the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) commencement to express their objection to the song.
"The district should keep its musical program secular to respect the diversity of beliefs held by its students and families and to be inclusive of all students," the FFRF wrote in a letter to the school. "It makes no difference how many students want religious songs or wouldn't be offended by them at their graduation ceremony. A graduation should be a celebration for all students, not an exercise in excluding non-religious students with a worship song."
In turn, officials decided to drop the song from the program to avoid a potential legal battle.
"We said, 'Okay, we just won't do it anymore.' It was a decision made because we don't have a lot of money and we'd rather hire teachers than pay lawyers," School Board President Larry Walton said, according to CNS News.
At the time, choir director urged the school board to reconsider: "I really don't want to get upset so forgive me for getting emotional," Lisa Ensinger, the high school choir director for 18 years, told the East Liverpool Board of Education, according to wfmj.com. "As a person of faith it means a great deal to me as you know, but as an educator I see this as an opening to a very broad door that can cause great detriment to our music education program."
"The idea of one person or 2 or 3 standing up and saying they don't want prayer back in school or even singing or reciting is sad," said Pastor Rodney Ohler, Salineville Assembly of God, according to WTOV.
Next year, Walton said he is looking into having a non-denominational baccalaureate service.