Salutatorian Torn By Ruling Madison High Senior Wrestles With Court Order Not To Pray

FRIDAY, JUNE 2, 1995

Mandi Johnson wrestled with her beliefs after a federal judge ordered students and administrators not to pray at Idaho high school graduations.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints taught the Madison High School salutatorian to believe in two things: the power of prayer and the rule of law. When school officials told her about U.S. District Court Judge Edward Lodge’s order, Johnson was torn.

“I still had a feeling I wanted to pray,” she said.

She turned to church beliefs and decided to obey the law.

Mandi read one of the Articles Of Faith of her church to her classmates Wednesday night at Ricks College before inviting them to join her in a moment of silence.

Around the state, eyes were on Madison School District, which was sued in 1991 over prayers at school activities.

Late last week, Lodge issued an order that the Grangeville School District was not to allow prayer at its graduation Wednesday night because of a lawsuit. The same order applies to all districts in Idaho, Lodge said.

Grangeville officials arranged for a separate baccalaureate service.

Two days before graduation, Madison officials told students about the decision and encouraged them to follow the law, Superintendent Brent Orr said. Students were given copies of the court ruling.

But they didn’t have time for lengthy discussions.

“We had faith that the students would understand and comply,” Orr said.

The graduation was held at Ricks College, a junior college owned by the Mormon Church.

Before the ceremony, senior Brandon Fenton said the court’s decision barring prayer was wrong. “It’s freedom of speech,” Fenton said. “I think it’s especially wrong up here in a private facility.”

Orr, who had not heard students express that position before, said they’re confused. “We are still a public institution regardless of where we hold our graduation,” he said.

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