Aaron Mackley wanted to read "The Graduate's Prayer" by Helen Seiner Rice, but was told he could not because the poem was a prayer, those residents said.
Resident Sandy Ruby told the school board that it took her quite a few days to compose her thoughts.
"I was filled with pride when (high school principal) Mark Shue took the podium at graduation and told students that the Constitution provided them with certain rights, including liberty and justice for all," she said.
Ruby went on to tell the board she felt that Mackley's liberty was taken away from him when he wasn't allowed to pray for his classmates.
"We need to stop worrying about being politically correct and start worrying about being morally, ethically and constitutionally correct," Ruby said.
Aaron's mother, Shirley Mackley, also addressed the board and said she was disappointed at how the matter was handled.
She said her son was not told he couldn't read the poem until a few hours before graduation. She said reasons given to her by Shue included that it was "ritualistic in nature and it read like a prayer."
"The pledge of allegiance is ritualistic in nature," Shirley Mackley said. "Yet it is what these kids say every day. I am worried that if we continue down this path we will soon be dictating what student can say. We are creating students who fear divergent views and opinions."
Pastor Don Pullen also spoke, indicating he believes the poem should have been allowed and that it is, in fact, protected under the Constitution.
"I, myself, have prayed at the beginning of Eastern's graduation at least four times," Pullen said.
Solicitor's decision: Board solicitor Phil Spare defended his decision to remove that portion of the speech from the ceremony. Spare said he wasn't given the actual text until a few hours before the ceremony.
"I take full reasonability for this decision," said Spare. "To embrace free speech, then you have to take an anything-goes mentality. If the district doesn't want to open themselves up to anything that may include inappropriate or vulgar comments, then it must give its stamp of approval to each speech. I felt that if we gave the stamp of approval to this prayer it would violate the law. I stand by that decision."
Added board president Doug Caldwell: "Sometimes we are in a rock and a hard place. It was an administrative decision, and we followed the law as it was dictated to us."
Robert Mackley, Aaron's father, said: "The valedictorian said, 'Sometimes in life to do the right thing you need to travel the harder path,' but in this situation you all took the easy road."
'The Graduate's Prayer
Aaron's version would have included some minor changes to make the poem plural (i.e.: I to we). The original version reads as follows:
A Graduate's Prayer
Father I have knowledge,
So will you show me now
How to use it wisely
And find a way somehow
To make the world I live in
A little better place,
And make life with its problems
A bit easier to face?
Grant me faith and courage
And put purpose in my days
And show me how to serve Thee
In the most effective ways
So all my education
My knowledge and my skill
May find their true fulfillment
As I learn to do Thy will.
And may I ever be aware
in everything I do
that knowledge comes from learning
and wisdom comes from you.
- Helen Steiner Rice