Catholic valedictorian joins fight to pray at her graduation

A judge has ruled that even words like “Amen” and “benediction” cannot be a part of a public high school graduation ceremony, and now the class valedictorian is filing a motion to change that.


The valedictorian of Medina Valley High School wants to pray during her speech at Saturday’s graduation and has joined the fray over a federal judge’s order barring public prayer at the event.

Angela Hildenbrand and a conservative advocacy group called a news conference Thursday in front of the Alamo to announce she had filed an emergency motion with the U.S. 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to intervene in the litigation started last week when the parents of an agnostic student sued the Medina Valley Independent School District.

The 5th Circuit still has to rule whether she has standing to join the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of senior Corwin Schultz and alleges students are wrongly forced to participate in school-sponsored prayer.

This week’s order by Chief U.S. District Judge Fred Biery left the door open for individual religious expression as long as it doesn’t ask others to pray. The school district is fighting it on appeal. Backed by the Dallas-based Liberty Institute, Hildenbrand argued that the order restricts her rights to free speech.

Hildenbrand, 18 , wants to be able to pray and mention terms or phrases barred by Biery’s order — to include “amen” and “in the name of Jesus” in the speech, said Erin Leu , an attorney with the Liberty Institute.

Biery’s order, issued Tuesday, says the Schultzes are “likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the inclusion of prayers at Medina Valley High School graduation ceremonies violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.” It also ordered the district to not include the terms “invocation” and “benediction” in the graduation program, and prohibits speakers from uttering certain phrases that would encourage the crowd to join in prayer.

The district appealed Thursday to the 5th Circuit, which covers Texas, seeking an emergency order that would overturn Biery’s ruling by Saturday night’s commencement.

“Such restrictions are unnecessarily broad in scope and unnecessarily and improperly entangle the District in its students’ free exercise of their religion,” the district said in its appeal. It argued that the order could expose the district to more litigation.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott ‘s office filed a brief with the 5th Circuit backing the district’s position Thursday.

Hildenbrand, whose family is Catholic, said her faith was the most important part of her life.

“Consequently, I had hoped to use prayer during my speech to thank God, to encourage my peers and to pray for all those in my community affected by this case,” Hildenbrand said. “After all that I have been taught about the freedoms of speech, expression and religion in our country, I am disappointed that my liberties are being infringed upon by this court’s ruling to censor my free speech. I have been looking forward to my high school graduation for a long time, and had hoped that it would be cause for celebration, not for conflict.”

Read the rest.

Interestingly, according to his Wikipedia entry, the judge who filed the ruling received degrees from two religiously-affiliated universities, Southern Methodist University and Texas Lutheran College.


  1. Amen! Ooops…. Can I write that?

  2. Prayer is a conversation with God. It is not important that anyone else know you are praying. It is only important that you and God know.

    Private prayer cannot be banned from anyplace or at any time. Just close your eyes or bow your head and mentally pray. Prayer does not have to be vocal to be heard by God.

    Public prayer is correctly banned. It is not proper to subject any person in a public forum to any prayer from a particular religion, sect, or religious bent. It is not sufficient that the offended person may leave or not participate, for each person has the right for full participation in an activity that is intended for all persons in attendance.

    The young lady should simply say a silent prayer before commencing her speech at the public event. And then during the speech simply thank the appropriate people who have helped her reach this stage in her life. Those people will likely be close enough to her to know the importance of religion in her life and do not need to be reminded. It is not important for the other people in the room to know.

    The parents had an opportunity to send their child to a religious school if that is the type of education they wished for her.

    The church the young lady attends could offer their own service to honor the parishioners that have reached that milestone in life. That would be a proper venue to offer public prayer.

  3. Strikes me as so odd that a country founded largely by a population who came here seeking religious liberty – is so bent on removing that liberty from its citizens. Very sad.

  4. When we can’t even pray in public because of the demands of a minority and the rights of many are trampled because of the system, it makes one wonder how and when it was taken over by such misled people. I’m well aware that the judicial system exists to protect the rights of the minority but it’s being used in this case to oppress, not protect. I hope that the young woman is successful in getting prayer back for her graduation.

  5. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, OR PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF, OR ABRIDGING THE FREEDOM OF SPPECH, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    I’m no lawyer, but doesn’t that seem pretty clear? She is valedictorian. She has a right to say what she wants. She can’t force people to pray, or to listen. She’s an 18-year-old girl.

    Shouldn’t we be encouraging young people to speak up and speak out for what is right?

    If I were her father, I’d encourage her to say what she needs to. I’d happily bail her out if she’s taken out in handcuffs. Seems like the apostles were subjected to the same thing from time to time. Prayers go out for Miss Hildebrant and her family.

  6. What this girl needs to do is to be a little creative.

    For example, she can say in her speech:

    “If I were allowed to pray to God, I would pray that…”

    Let the judge try to put her in jail for that.

  7. Edward Martin says:

    I am always amazed by comments like “It is not proper to subject any person in a public forum to any prayer from a particular religion, sect, or religious bent. It is not sufficient that the offended person may leave or not participate, for each person has the right for full participation in an activity that is intended for all persons in attendance. ” So can a valedictorian express other personally held beliefs that might might make some in the audience feel uncomfortable? There seems to be one rule for religion and another for other deeply held beliefs. What if she wanted to mention her personal beliefs on climate change, which in itself has become almost a religion.

  8. Frank: you blew a lot of hot air……the issue is freedom of speech, this young lady is not “establishing a religion”, only the federal government can try to do that, which the first amendment prohibits, people like you have been fooled by the ACLU into thinking that separation between church and state is part of the first amendment or our founding documents, which it is not, I will leave it to people like you to research where the words “separation of church and state” came from and who said it, google it!
    Also in case you don’t know your history which appears to be the case, even way after the Constitution was ratified the bible was taught in our public schools, presidents prayed in the white house, etc…religion was not flawed upon or banned as it is now, it’s been said that atheist and communists have Infiltrated every aspect of our society to change the mindset of americans and to a certain extent they have succeeded, but I for one am not going to fall for this lie and will fight for my rights, if I were this young lady I would say a prayer at the graduation and risk going to jail, the fact is there are more of us than of you!
    I think there’s going to come a point where atheists/communists/secularism/marxism/humanism,etc can only push us so far, and I’m not advocating violence in any sense, just massive protests, coming out to vote, risk going to jail…etc.

    God Bless America….because we need it!!


  9. If she was a Muslim, I wonder what the sentiment of the commentaters would b.

    Mike L

  10. The Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War with the King of England acknowledging the United States as an independent country begins, “In the name of the most holy and undivided Trinity.” Of course, most liberals know nothing of history prior to the 1960s.

  11. I tend to agree more with Mark than Frank on this one. Though I appreciate Frank’s desire to show respect for everyone in the audience (people with diverse beliefs and traditions and sensibilities), in the end this is a free speech issue.

    A court does not, in my opinion, have a right to exercise prior restraint on the words or message a valedictorian chooses to share (short of her calling for her peers to beat each other over the head, etc.). I want this student speaker to be able to say, for instance, “America has demonstrated its greatest by electing a president who reflects our multiculturalism and who believes in putting human needs before political expediency.” She should have that right. Along that same line, she should be able to pray out loud during her speech if she so chooses.

    Yet I believe her classmates also have the right to tell her, after the speech, that they think she gave a lousy, inconsiderate speech — if that is in fact their point of view — because they have a right to express themselves freely as well.

    This is not a school district promoting or endorsing prayer; this is a student who has free speech rights. Taking away those rights would be a bad lesson indeed.

  12. It’s freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion. There is no right that I know of that says people in public places are protected from hearing the word God mentioned.

    I like the post above that says she should say, “If I was allowed to pray, I would say….” Not only does she get the prayer in, she let’s everyone know her 1st amendment rights are being violated.

  13. Mike L: as a devout Catholic I wouldn’t have the sightest issue if the girl was a Muslim, personally I don’t believe in other religions but as long as they are not speaking in hateful tones I would have no issue with it.
    I guess the next question someone will ask is if she was a satanist and wanted to thank satan, in that case this person would be protected under the first amendment, personally I would not attend the graduation or have my kids do so, these are decisions each of us has to make not the government.


  14. Dale Price says:

    “Public prayer is correctly banned. It is not proper to subject any person in a public forum to any prayer from a particular religion, sect, or religious bent. It is not sufficient that the offended person may leave or not participate, for each person has the right for full participation in an activity that is intended for all persons in attendance.”

    I know what you’re trying to say, Frank, but the First Amendment does not have an exception for religious speech. Apparently, under the Judge’s order, a speaker could hold forth with great specificity and length about, for example, her anti-affirmative action or pro-slavery reparations views. No doubt many would find either of those offensive. More offensive than prayer, actually. Would you make those illegal, too?

    Biery’s order–at least as it is reported in the press, as I cannot find an actual copy of the decision itself–is overkill. In his determination to protect against “establishment” of religion, he shreds the rest of the First Amendment in the process. Not good.

  15. Elcid (#8) — I expect we will have to agree to disagree. I do request you disagree with more civility, though, and refrain from comments such as “people like you” and assumptions about a lack of education or knowledge of history. But FYI, I am a church going, praying, religious individual. Part of my career was as a Catholic high school administrator. I spent over twenty years as a Lector and Eucharist Minister. I count some Carmelite nuns and a Bishop among my personal friends.

    Steve (#11) — Thank you for the well worded response.

  16. Irish Spectre says:

    The ACLUization of the country is getting downright monotonous.

    Ours is a Judeo-Christian country; it just is, and I wish that she wouldn’t make a case out of this, but rather just go ahead and do (i.e, say) her thing. …no need to assert a theological treatise or anything of that sort, but just give God His due.

    Let the Pontius Pilates and Roman soldiers out there then decide how they want to respond; I wouldn’t be overly concerned about it.

  17. BHeistan says:

    Hello, This is only partially about religious speech. It is primarily about a Federal Gov. that is desperately attempting to exert greater control of the citizenry. And it is also an attempt to damage the people of Texas for their rejection of TSA abuse. The shultz’s are doing more damage to their child with supporting a Federal response at oversight than trying to prove an illusion of harm by negating other’s rights. The minority interest is now at war with the majority interest.

  18. Frank: I don’t think I was uncivil when I stated that comment you mentioned, when I said “people like you” I meant people who have a different opinion then most/all of the people on this site on this issue, I welcome peoples opinions who are different than my own but that doesn’t mean I cannot be a little pointed if I need to be, I was also generally referring to our religous history on the other comment.
    Since you gave us your resume I for one am perplexed on your views since you hang out with nuns and bishops, am I to assume your one of the 50% of Catholics who voted for obama?
    I highly recommend you read the encyclical “Libertas Praestantissimum” by Pope Leo XIII, section 18 is entitled “Separation of Church and State is Fatal”

    But the bottom line as other people have commented…this is just a freedom of speech issue..period


  19. Frank (#2, #15) – By your reasoning, Jesus had no right to speak or pray publicly either, nor should the apostles have gone out evangelizing, nor should the early church martyrs have stood up for their faith at the cost of their lives, praying, preaching and praising Christ openly on their way to being burned alive or thrown to the lions. How rude of them, especially Jesus who openly called the Pharisees a bunch of white-washed tombs filled with dead men’s bones and sons of Satan. Silence the man! He should have been more respectful of others’ differing beliefs.

    What an emasculated version of Christianity you express. And wrong. Surely you know that there there is both public and private prayer in the Church, not only private? It’s the culture, not the Church, that wants us to keep it all private, for the same reason that Herod’s wife wanted John the Baptist beheaded: it doesn’t want to be told of it’s own sinfulness.

    I’m a Catholic too, and am tired of reading story after story about Christians forced to defend basic rights to self-expression, while every form of perversion under the sun is being shoved down our throats in the name of “rights.” Our founding father’s point of separation of church and state was to keep the STATE from interfering with the CHURCH and the lives of the FAITHFUL, not vice-versa. It was to protect our religious freedoms, not squelch them – many of our first settlers came to this country to escape state-sponsored religious persecution, and wanted to prevent it from happening again. But it’s been all twisted around by people with an anti-Christian, pro-perversion agenda in today’s world. King Herod all over again.

    And your opinion that we should all just stay silent sickens me – what milquetoast, if you’ll pardon my freedom of speech. Not only are our constitutional rights at stake, but the Church is overtly calling us to evangelize, share our Faith, be open, vocal, and prominent in politics and culture – not silent and shrinking in the name of some misguided “respect.” Real respect tells the truth, which everyone has a right to know and which is not an imposition, but something we Christians have a duty to share: the truth that we are made by God, and He loves us and made us for Himself. Don’t believe me, believe Pope Paul VI, who spelled it out in his encyclical on evangelization, Evangelii Nuntiandi.

    Frankly, if the higher court tells the young woman she can’t pray at her graduation – which I hope it won’t – I think she should do it anyway, and the crowd right along with her, at the top of their lungs. It’s called FREEDOM!!!! FIGHT for our rights to be who we are!!!! It’s what our country is founded on, and the state does not have a right to take it away from us.

  20. We have a de-facto State religion now and it’s called atheism and the State is enforcing it.

  21. pagansister says:

    Perhaps she should have considered going to a Catholic high school—thus no problems. She is graduating from a public high school, not one with a religious affilation, thus prayer is a problem. The key word—public.

  22. pagansister says:

    #9 Mike L: If she was a Muslim I’d have the same response. It is a public high school—not a religious one. She could pray at her Mosque after the graduation.

  23. elcid that’s what confused leftists do. They spout self righteous drivel, grounded in lies, then when you disagree with them, they behave as victims. You were “uncivil.”

    Eventually people will grow tired of that tripe, as I already have.

    “Uncivil” enough for you, Frank? I don’t care one way or the other. The only true victims are the ones who suffer at the hands of leftist chicanery. And that list is long.

    The same liberals who will defend unspeakable filth being spewed in the public arena in the name of free speech prattle on self-righteously when somebody mentions the name of Jesus Christ in public, based on the “separation of church and state” canard.

    Christ is King. Proclaim him boldly, or join the lukewarm Franks of the world. We all know what happens to the lukewarm. I don’t recall Christ being afraid to “offend” when it came to proclaiming His kingdom.

    And before you even try, “uncharitable” is as meaningless and toothless as “uncivil.” I reject them both.

  24. Fastercat says:

    It’s the Valedictorians speech. Not the agnostics speech or the ACLUs speech. She earned it. Let her say what she will.

  25. I am 28 years old, born & raised Christian who attended a public school all my life. I agree the Valedictorian has a right to say whatever she wants based on the first amendment; I guess it just comes down to a matter of taste. It might seem like every other religions’ rights have been defended greater than Christianity, yet I have never experienced a public prayer other than a Christian prayer. To be honest, it would make me uncomfortable to have someone pray a Jewish or Muslim prayer in public. So why would I want someone else to experience that? Seems opposite of what Christianity teaches. That is why I sympathize with the idea of no prayer. If it is that important than she should have attended a religious school. Recently it seems like Christians care more about their “rights” than just being good Christian people.

  26. Tatoy Vee says:

    Can a gay man, use a public ladies bathroom?…Nope!

    The problem of political correctness is that people are plainly selfish. Tolerance for each other is key…could have been a wonderful world; without it, results in a society like what we have now…totally confused on how we should deal and respect each other.

    The arguments of the very few “agnostics” that they are offended by religious icons, symbolism, public prayer are so flawed! Im so sick of it already…

    In the Mighty Name of Jesus, I pray….All the Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit!!!

    Amen, Amen, Amen

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