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Winfield High ends religious speech at graduation

WINFIELD (AP) — Retired Winfield High School football coach Leon McCoy will no longer give a religiously themed speech at the school’s graduation.

Principal Bruce McGrew and McCoy agreed that the longtime coach will not speak at this year’s graduation after the Putnam County school system received complaints, McGrew told media outlets.

“It was not something that I wanted to do, because of my personal belief,” McGrew said. “I’m a Christian, and it was a tough situation.”

As principal, McGrew said he has to comply with the law.

“Unfortunately, whether we agree with a law or not, all public schools, including Winfield, are in the position of making decisions that must comply with the law. The decision is not about anyone’s personal thoughts, feelings or beliefs,” he said.

McCoy has given a speech at graduation for at least the past 10 years. McGrew said McCoy typically includes prayer and scripture as part of his speech.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that school officials cannot facilitate prayer at school functions.

McCoy said the focus should be on the students who are graduating, and not on him.

“I want to do what is right. As Christians, we have been, in the past, able to express our views, but we can’t forget about the law. If we are breaking the law, we have to make adjustments. This is not a decision of the board; this is the law. I hope people will take my lead,” McCoy said in a statement issued to media outlets.

“This is not about me or Mr. McGrew or the superintendent. I have confidence in the administration at Winfield High, the Board of Education, and the superintendent, as I always have. If we are fortunate enough to get young people to follow our leadership, we thank God for it.

Putnam County school administrators and the Board of Education were not involved in the planning of Winfield High’s graduation ceremony, Superintendent Chuck Hatfield told media outlets.

Winfield High’s graduation will be held June 5.

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