Indiana High School Puts Graduation Prayer Up for a Vote; Valedictorian Sues

Why is a high school putting graduation prayers up for a vote?

It’s illegal, it’s unconstitutional, it’s… Indiana. That explains it.

Greenwood High School in Indianapolis seems to think this is ok.

Yet somehow, in the midst of an education system that can’t even understand the Constitution, they have produced at least one student who knows better:

The top-ranked senior at Greenwood High School is asking a federal judge to stop a graduation prayer that the class voted to approve.

The lawsuit by 18-year-old Eric Workman said the prayer and the vote unconstitutionally subject religious practice to majority rule.

How awesome is that.

The valedictorian is suing the school because he knows more about our legal system then the educators who allowed this bullshit to happen in the first place. Brilliant.

And you have to laugh at this passage:

The Rev. Shan Rutherford, pastor of Greenwood Christian Church for more than three decades, said he disagrees with the proposition that such a prayer would violate a student’s rights.

“If I lived in a Muslim nation, a Hindu nation or anything else, I would expect to go along with the majority,” Rutherford said. “He’s trying to go with minority rule. To me, that’s wrong in a democracy, one that was founded on Christian principles.”

“If you don’t agree, I don’t think you should try to stop other people from exercising their rights.”

So many problems here…

1) Who cares what a pastor has to say about a public school’s graduation?

2) Does anyone really believe he’d start praising Allah at a graduation ceremony if he lived in a Muslim nation?

3) We are not, and never have been, a Christian nation

4) No one is stopping individual students from “exercising their right” to pray. If they want to pray, let them pray. There’s just no need to give them a platform to explicitly practice their faith at a public ceremony.

5) If the pastor believes in going along with whatever the majority wants, does that mean he accepts evolution like just about all real scientists do?

If administrators and parents really wanted to hear Christian prayers during graduation, they should have gotten a job or enrolled their children in a private Christian school.

Public school is not the place to see anyone’s faith glorified.

There are ways to find loopholes in the system, of course, and some school have done that in the past. Instead of voting to hold a prayer, schools have allowed students to vote for a graduation speaker — and the individual speaker could deliver a prayer. Somehow, Greenwood High School didn’t get the memo on that.

Here’s hoping they lose the case. And I really hope some local paper publishes a transcript of Workman’s valedictorian speech.

Sounds like the young man knows what he’s doing and could educate his own community on standing up for what’s right.

If you’re interested, here’s a copy of the lawsuit he filed with the help of the ACLU.

(Thanks to Andrew for the link!)

  • Miko

    Actually, “just about all real scientists” isn’t normally taken as the definition of “the majority.”

  • Gary

    What is the argument for saying that having a school prayer at a graduation ceremony in an Indiana school is unconstitutional?

  • http://www.facebook.com/happyembolism Jerome Pulaski

    “If you don’t agree, I don’t think you should try to stop other people from exercising their rights.” – As long as they agree with everything the pastor believes, correct?

  • cypressgreen

    6)Christianity and democracy are like oil and water. Didn’t he read his own holy book?

  • MikeW

    @Gary The separation of church and state comes to mind…

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/noblinksnake/ laviniaserpent

    Would Miko care to provide a statistic that shows most scientists *don’t* believe in evolution?

    As for whether this is Christian nation…
    it is.

    It is also a secular nation. The fight has been raging from day one. It IS a fight, not a debate, not a discussion. Christianity did not rise to power with words, but with war and slavery.

    The valedictorian is right to sue, rather than simply complain.

  • Gary

    MikeW:

    What in the Constitution can reasonably be construed as prohibiting a high school class in Indiana from holding a prayer during their graduation ceremony?

  • http://pinkydead.blogspot.com David McNerney

    As Mr Jefferson said:

    “…though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.”

    Christian principles my arse.

  • Alycia

    It was okay when I graduated high school as long as the students voted for it. Granted, it was Ohio and in 1995, so things might have changed since then.

    Also, the class president took it upon himself to make the decision for all of us and have the prayers. I wasn’t ballsy enough at that age to do anything about it…

  • WishinItWas

    @ Gary
    Establishment Clause of the First Amendment

    #2 maybe?

    “The establishment clause has generally been interpreted to prohibit 1) the establishment of a national religion by Congress, or 2) the preference of one religion over another or the support of a religious idea with no identifiable secular purpose. The first approach is called the “separation” or “no aid” interpretation, while the second approach is called the “non-preferential” or “accommodation” interpretation.”

    Lazily and quickly located here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Establishment_Clause_of_the_First_Amendment

  • Delphine

    Gary, are you trolling? What about the First Amendment that protects individual’s rights to religion and forbids a State sanctioned religion?

    LOL? It’s like Christians rewrite the Constitution in their brains whenever religion is involved.

    This student is so awesome I feel like helping him pay for college. Haha.

    I graduated HS in 2001 and I know there would’ve been an uprising if my school attempted a public prayer. Considering the 10% or so Hindu or Muslim students, the 25% or so atheists/agnostics, and the 10% or so Buddhists, I’d really like to see them try. I imagine the percentage of non-Christian students is even higher now in my previous HS.

  • Gary

    Delphine:

    I didn’t that think I was trolling. I thought that I was politely hinting that it might be wise to actually read the First Amendment. If one does that, one finds that it says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”

    Is there something about the distinction between “Congress” and “an Indiana high school class” that seems unclear?

  • Nate

    There is something about that distinction that’s not clear actually. See, it’s a public high school. Which means it gets it’s funding from the local government. Local and state governments are generally obligated to follow any federal laws. That means that while it says “Congress”, it applies much more broadly than that.

    That’s also why it’s been pointed out that had this been a private high school, no one would really care.

  • JulietEcho

    Gary, the “free exercise” stops when it comes to the government (i.e. public schools, courthouses, city councils, federal prisons, etc.) doing the exercising. The individual people who make up the government can obviously still be religious, but the government itself can’t interfere in OR favor any particular religion. A public school (funded by tax money, run by government) can’t favor Christianity by holding a public prayer at a school event like a graduation or an assembly.

    Students at such a school are still free to pray on their own and even form prayer groups. I know, because I formed one in high school, as a Christian. We met in the library during lunch hour and prayed quietly in a corner. Teachers and students can even pray together if it’s not during school hours – like they do yearly at “See You At The Pole” events.

    A student giving a speech at the event can choose to exercise their right to freedom of religion by praying during their speech, as Hemant mentions in the original post.

    The freedoms here are abundant, and perfectly in accord with the 1st amendment.

    The school itself – as an established government body – can’t take a stance on religion by favoring, funding, or promoting one. This is to protect religion – by not allowing our government to play favorites or take positions on religions, Americans are assured we won’t end up in the shoes of the early Pilgrims and colonists, many of whom fled to avoid religious persecution by governments that DID meddle in religious affairs and take sides.

    Got all that? That’s the reason, in a nutshell. While this case may seem small, it’s still relevant and important to hold a consistent standard that’s in line with the Constitution. Exceptions provide cracks that can spread, and some Americans would absolutely love to see a theocracy established. For those of us who shudder at that thought, it’s important to hold the front line, which includes events like this. The message it’s sending to the next generation (the kids who are graduating) is also important. Should they be given the message that, despite the law, a strong-arming majority can do what they like and get away with it?

  • Vas

    @ Gary and the rev Rutherford
    Just because a majority wants something does not by necessity mean they can have it. We live in a “liberal democracy” or if you prefer a we can use the term “constitutional democracy”, (if you find the very word liberal offensive) they both mean pretty much the same thing, namely that while we have a right to vote on certain issues we are governed by, and the will of the voters is subject to the provisions of our constitution. We as Americans are afforded certain protections from mob rule. If the majority of Americans wish for the state to endorse a particular religious viewpoint, say Christianity for example, by providing them with an exclusive platform at the public expense this is disallowed. If tomorrow for some reason most Americans woke up and decided that all people with red hair were to be considered property and could be traded as slaves, we would still be prohibited for doing so as it is not allowable under our constitution. We don’t live in an absolute pure democracy, we live in a liberal democracy, and that means the majority can’t always get what it wants, minority opinions are afforded certain protections. A school sponsored prayer is an endorsement of a particular religious viewpoint and is disallowed by our constitution no matter how much you vote on the issue or desire that privileged position. This is simple stuff and it is surprising that some don’t understand this. The issue of school sponsored prayer has been determined,(by the judiciary) to be disallowed by our constitution, please note this in no way prohibits individuals from praying any time they wish including at a public school graduation ceremony, they simply are not afforded a publicly funded platform for this activity but my still practice their religious ceremony as individuals without coercing others to participate, imply consent, or show what many conciser undue respect by being compelled to remain silent during state sponcered a religious ritual.

  • Gary

    JulietEcho:

    Your reasoning is beside the constitutional point. True, the school is an established government body. As to whether a class thereof is also an established government body might be a matter for debate. In any case, the school is not an established part of the federal government. Still less is it the Congress of the United States. In order to argue that the actions of the school, or the class, are “unconstitutional,” it seems reasonable that one ought to be able to point to some part of the Constitution with which they conflict. Can you do so?

  • Gary

    Vas writes,

    The issue of school sponsored prayer has been determined,(by the judiciary) to be disallowed by our constitution”>The issue of school sponsored prayer has been determined,(by the judiciary) to be disallowed by our constitution

    I think there is a useful a distinction to be made between “has been determined by the judiciary to be disallowed by the Constitution” and “is disallowed by the Constitution.”

    The judiciary has recently determined — again — that the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance are NOT disallowed by the Constitution, even though those words are there by act of Congress, not by the vote of some high school class in Indiana. Does it therefore follow that, because the judiciary has spoken, the Pledge of Allegiance in its current form is constitutional?

  • Vas

    @ Delphine,
    You are correct, Gary’s posts are almost the very definition of trolling. A rather sad attempt to alter reality by arguing “clever points” in a blog comments section. All his yammering and “questions” change nothing. He comes off as just chiming in to arouse arguments and discontent, nothing will be accomplished by his posts and he knows this very well. He is just rattling cages because he desires confrontation. So again yes that is indeed what trolling is.

  • Casimir

    “If I lived in a Muslim nation, a Hindu nation or anything else, I would expect to go along with the majority,” Rutherford said.

    Hm. So should soldiers serving in Iraq should “go along” with Islamic religious practices?

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Gary, honestly, I can’t tell if you’re trolling or not. You hardly seem surprised that people claim it’s unconstitutional because of the Establishment Clause, so why not start out by explaining why you think this practice is OK under the Establishment Clause? Why have this drawn-out mock-confusion where you go, “Huh? Why would it be unconstitutional? Oh, the First Amendment? Huh? Why is that relevant?” I can’t tell if you’re actually trying to troll, but the effect is that you seem to be acting intentionally ignorant in a way that’s pretty counterproductive to actual conversation.

    For example, I can answer your question by pointing out that while the First Amendment alone refers only to the federal government, section 1 of the 14th Amendment has been held to apply many of the principles of the Bill of Rights (including separation of church and state) to the states, and thus applies to the actions of the school district. But I’m skeptical that I’m actually telling you anything you don’t know. I suspect, more likely, you’re just waiting for this response so that you can jump back with “Huh? Why does the 14th Amendment incorporate the Bill of Rights? Huh? Where’s this ‘separation’ you mention in the First Amendment?” And thus force me to explain, over several hundred posts, all the constitutional logic and precedent that you probably already know. Which, as you’re not a law professor engaging me in Socratic dialog that I need to pass your class, I’m not inclined to do.

  • The Watcher

    Gary isn’t trolling, he truly doesn’t understand the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

    Look, Gary, since you need this explained: The Establishment clause holds that Congress may make no law respecting the Establishment of religion. The Fourteenth Amendment applies the Bill of Rights to the state governments.

    Lemon v. Kurtzman holds that a state action must:

    1. Have a secular purpose
    2. Neither promote nor inhibit religion.
    3. Not excessively entangle government with religion.

    ACLU v. Blackhorse Pike Regional Bd. of Directors held that there was no secular purpose in allowing students to have a school prayer.

    Sorry, you lose.

  • Carlie

    What Vas said. If tomorrow the majority of people decided that the quoted pastor should be thrown out to sea, would he agree to it since it’s majority rule? Our system of government is set up to (at least sometimes) keep minority rights from being extinguished.

  • Gary

    Autumnal Harvest:

    I think I’ve made my position about why an action of an Indiana high school class in voting to have a school prayer would not be a violation of the Establishment Clause perfectly clear: The Establishment Clause prohibits a certain class of acts of Congress. It does not prohibit acts by high school classes in Indiana.

    While it might be worthwhile to discuss whether, in general, the doctrine of “selective incorporation” makes sense, here I would simply ask what, in the 14th Amendment, can reasonably construed as implying that “Congress” and “an Indiana high school class” are somehow the same thing?

    Don’t you find it curious that an Indiana high school class could be claimed to be in violation of the Establishment Clause if they had a prayer during their graduation ceremony, while it is not in violation of the Establishment Clause (or is it?) for the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate each to have chaplains with salaries of well over $100,000 per year, paid for out of “federal tax dollars”? It is, after all, one of the duties of these paid federal employees to open each daily session of their respective chambers with a prayer. My reading of the First Amendment is such that I would have thought that it should be the other way around — that an Indiana high school class is not prohibited by the Establishment Clause from holding a prayer at a graduation ceremony, while Congress is prohibited from using tax dollars to fund chaplains to pray to open the sessions of the two houses.

  • Bob

    The school will do the only reasonable thing and that is to just cancel the graduation ceremony.

  • Gary

    The Watcher writes:

    Look, Gary, since you need this explained: The Establishment clause holds that Congress may make no law respecting the Establishment of religion. The Fourteenth Amendment applies the Bill of Rights to the state governments.

    Does that mean that an Indiana high school class is the same thing as Congress, and does it also mean that a prayer offered by an Indiana high school class during its graduation ceremony has the same status as an act of Congress — it becomes the supreme law of the land?

  • Kevin

    Gary,

    Congressional law: All children must receive an education. For those whose parents aren’t qualified or able to provide that education and cannot afford private schools, public schools will be provided; hence, there are no exceptions to this law (and dire consequences to any parents who attempt to evade it).

    Would you agree that
    1) If the law mandates attendence of public school, and
    2) The public school mandates attendence of religious ceremonies (e.g. group prayer) Then
    3) There is a law respecting the establishment of religion?

    If not, please help me identify where I’m losing you. In your response to my post, could you start by answering this hypothetical: would a law which explicitly required parents to take their children to a church service every Sunday, on penalty of imprisonment, be considered a “law which respects the establishment of religion”?

  • Autumnal Harvest

    . . .here I would simply ask what, in the 14th Amendment, can reasonably construed as implying that “Congress” and “an Indiana high school class” are somehow the same thing?

    Oh, it’s an honest question? You really don’t understand that since the 14th amendment applies to state actions, the question is not whether “Congress” and “a high school class” are the same thing, but whether state action is involved, thus applying the 14th amendment’s incorporation of the separation of church and state described in the 1st Amendment against the states? Since you seem eager to learn about constitutional law, let me write a long post explaining the doctrine of “state action.” I’m sure that once you understand the doctrine of state action, and how it applies here, you’ll be satisfied.

    No, wait, now I’m remembering something I wrote in a previous post:

    But I’m skeptical that I’m actually telling you anything you don’t know. I suspect, more likely, you’re just waiting for this response so that you can jump back with “Huh? Why does the 14th Amendment incorporate the Bill of Rights? Huh? Where’s this ’separation’ you mention in the First Amendment?” And thus force me to explain, over several hundred posts, all the constitutional logic and precedent that you probably already know. Which, as you’re not a law professor engaging me in Socratic dialog that I need to pass your class, I’m not inclined to do.

  • plutosdad

    Also

    6) we aren’t a democracy, we are a democratic republic, whose founding document limits government specifically to stop it from forcing majority rule on its citizens

  • Gary

    Kevin writes:

    Congressional law: All children must receive an education. For those whose parents aren’t qualified or able to provide that education and cannot afford private schools, public schools will be provided; hence, there are no exceptions to this law (and dire consequences to any parents who attempt to evade it).

    I’m sure you will correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought that compulsory school attendance in Indiana was provided for under the public laws of Indiana (specifically, Indiana Code 20-33-2), and not under a federal statute.

  • http://youtube.com/smarterthanyoulook Mike Wagner

    I would love to see the valedictorian lead a bull on to the stage, set down a (prop) 10 gallon can of gasoline, and make as if to sacrifice a burnt offering right then and there.

    Oh, the horror :)

  • Gary

    Autumnal Harvest writes:

    You really don’t understand that since the 14th amendment applies to state actions, the question is not whether “Congress” and “a high school class” are the same thing, but whether state action is involved, thus applying the 14th amendment’s incorporation of the separation of church and state described in the 1st Amendment against the states?

    What I really don’t understand is how, since the 14th Amendment applies to state actions, it can “incorporate” a constitutional prohibition that is very expressly directed against a certain class of acts of Congress — but not state actions.

    I think that if you are going to make a 14th Amendment argument here at all, it needs to be one that ignores the First Amendment altogether. Such an argument is possible, but in this case seems to get rather tenuous. I suppose it would go something like this: In Indiana, public schools are state funded. Also, children are required to attend school in Indiana, under state law (though they are not required to attend a state-funded public school). A public school graduation ceremony is a state-supported function (though it is not clear that any student is actually compelled to attend such a function). A student who objects to a prayer offered at a ceremony he is not required to attend is being deprived of liberty even if he is not legally compelled to participate in the prayer.

    This chain of reasoning doesn’t seem to me to be particularly compelling. The reasoning would get even weaker if it is claimed that a high school graduation ceremony prayer would ipso facto be a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment even if no one in attendance objected. But whether the argument is weak or strong, it does not depend in any way on the First Amendment.

  • http://quichemoraine.com Mike Haubrich, FCD

    Gary –

    I don’t see why you are having such a hard time understanding that the 14th amendment applies to incorporate the school’s responsibility for protecting the rights of the students in a public school. Please re-read a summary of the Lemon Test. That explains it all. It basically states that our rights are protected from state and local intrusion as much as they are from the Federal.

    You really should take a Civics class to understand how case law works. You seem to be stuck on the establishment clause being limited to Congressional actions.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Gary, there’s simply no way that you can know enough to use the phrase “selective incorporation,” and yet be ignorant of the fact that all of the Bill of Rights initially applied to the states, and that the 14th Amendment applies the prohibitions that initially applied to the federal government to the states, making your emphasis on the word “Congress” completely nonsensical. The 14th Amendment, being an amendment, changes things. e.g. if we have two laws

    1. No men in the army can be absent without leave.

    2. Rule 1 applies to women. (Written after rule 1, as we now have women in the army.)

    then a person who knew of both of these rules, but then acted “confused” as to how rule 1 could apply to women, when it has the word “men” in it, would either be extremely stupid, or a troll. I’m going to have to retract my previous statement:

    Gary, honestly, I can’t tell if you’re trolling or not.

    Never mind, I can tell. I’m done here.

  • Marcel

    I like the Fark headline:

    American Family Association: “Part of being an adult is learning to tolerate speech you don’t like.” Super Bowl Nipple unavailable for comment.

    with an “Ironic” tag attached, of course.

  • The Watcher

    Gary:

    It’s unassailable that the 14th Amendment incorporation clause applies the Bill of Rights to the states. You can’t pretend it doesn’t exist; it’s a firmly-established piece of Constitutional precedent. It would be like trying to argue that gravity doesn’t exist to a physicist. I’m sorry you can’t accept it, but it’s there.

    Please do some reading on the 14th Amendment before you try to argue it with us.

  • http://www.challengernewspapers.com Doug

    Please read the “Things That Trouble Me” column on this site. http://www.challengernewspapers.com/Things%20That%20Trouble%20Me.htm. No one is trying to convert you to a Christian (although I will pray for you) but this IS and ALWAYS has been a Christian nation. It is what our country was founded on and while atheists certainly have a right to be atheist, they do not have the right the few of them to force their beliefs upon the majority of the rest of us. Why do atheists have to make a fight out of everything and run to court. I have been to many an atheist event as well as many a homosexual event and even a few Muslim events. I do not agree with any of these issues but never object to them following their practices. And as for the soldiers in Iraq, I would not expect them to pray a Muslim prayer but I would also be just as harsh on them if they ran to court to try to stop them from having a Muslim prayer at their high school graduation.

  • Vas
  • Ron in Houston

    Actually, there’s a whole bunch of misquoting of the law here. It’s anything but black and white.

    Part of the reason for putting it up for vote is to try to distance the school district from any potential prayer.

    If you want a secular synopsis – go here.

    If you want a pretty good discussion while showing you the cynical and manipulative ways of the religious right – go here.

    Actually from the news report I thought they were going on a 14th amendment equal protection/due process argument. However, the online petition goes strictly on 1st amendment grounds.

  • Ron in Houston

    Sorry for multiple posts -

    On the page by Religious Tolerance.org they quote a 1992 5th circuit court decision – that case would be Jones v. Clear Creek Independent School District.

  • Luther

    As Dawkins said there is no such thing as a “Christian Child”

    There could be a “Christian Nation”, but the United States is NOT.

    But as this post shows there is such a thing as a “Christian Idiot”.

    The only thing controversial is is “Christian Idiot” redundant.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Ron, I agree it’s not black-and-white. Putting it up to a student vote makes it possible for the school to claim that there’s no state action involved (in fact, that’s surely why they did it this way). I would strongly dispute that claim, but it’s not clear how the court will see it. I was just objecting to Gary’s nonsensical claim that separation of church and state applies only to Congress.

  • Gary

    Mike Haubrich writes:

    You really should take a Civics class to understand how case law works. You seem to be stuck on the establishment clause being limited to Congressional actions.

    I am indeed stuck on the Establishment Clause being limited to congressional actions, because it is limited to congressional actions. That is expressly what it addresses, and no one here has made the case that it had, or could have had, any other meaning prior to the adoption of the 14th Amendment. The question on the table is whether the Fourteenth Amendment CHANGED the First Amendment in such a way as to alter the words “Congress” and “law” in “Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion…” such that it not only could be reasonably read, but MUST be read, “A high school class shall say no prayer….”

    Just a few days ago the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals opined, “In contending the Pledge [of Allegiance] is an unconstitutional religious exercise, plaintiffs erroneously fixate solely on the words “under God” and disregard the context in which those words appear. True, the words ‘under God’ have religious significance. This, however, does not turn the Pledge into a religious exercise.” Am I, like the plaintiffs in this case allegedly were, “erroneously fixating” on the wrong thing? Is the court’s opinion beyond criticism because it is, after, the opinion of a court?

    I understand perfectly well how case law works. Sometimes I am troubled by the results — as for example, when it is held by some court (again with reference to the the Fourteenth Amendment) that the word “person” encompasses within the scope of its proper meaning the term “corporation,” or when it was held, by another court at another time, that the word “person” does NOT encompass within its legal meaning either “black man” or “black woman.”

  • The Watcher

    I am indeed stuck on the Establishment Clause being limited to congressional actions, because it is limited to congressional actions. That is expressly what it addresses, and no one here has made the case that it had, or could have had, any other meaning prior to the adoption of the 14th Amendment.

    Except now we have a 14th Amendment, so it doesn’t really matter what the First Amendment meant before it.

  • Ron in Houston

    Gary

    Dude – your backtracking is making you look pretty embarrassing but maybe the homeschool is a little light on the Constitution.

    You started out with this:

    What is the argument for saying that having a school prayer at a graduation ceremony in an Indiana school is unconstitutional?

    Then you followed up with this little gem:

    What in the Constitution can reasonably be construed as prohibiting a high school class in Indiana from holding a prayer during their graduation ceremony?

    Now you’ve finally come around (I guess Google is your friend, huh?) You’re at least making the argument that before the 14th Amendment and a bunch of cases in the 1890′s the the Bill of Rights didn’t apply to the states.

    That argument is true however it doesn’t negate the first two moronic arguments.

  • Gary

    The Watcher writes

    Please do some reading on the 14th Amendment before you try to argue it with us.

    My argument is not based on “reading on” the 14th Amendment, but on a “reading of” the 14th Amendment, as well as of the First.

    I would be curious as to whether the members of the Congress that voted to adopt the Fourteenth Amendment understood that they were voting on whether or not to strike down prayers by high school graduating classes. Given that Congress approved the amendment a scant two years after it had approved adding “In God We Trust” to the coinage for the first time, I would say that’s a questionable proposition. My guess is that if we looked at the legislative record, we’d find that, on the day they approved the amendment, each house of Congress began its session with a prayer, as was customary.

    Now that’s not to say that the 14th Amendment might not make a prayer by a high school graduating class unconstitutional. After all, the meaning of the Constitution is to be found in the first instance in what it says or doesn’t say, not in what the legislators intended or didn’t intend to accomplish — or, indeed, in what the courts declare they think it means. Nevertheless, I am reasonably confident that the Congress that passed the amendment, and the state legislatures that ratified it, would have been quite surprised to find that they were doing what the courts later said they had done.

  • Facts for Faith

    The fact is, from the moment they step onto the public school campus to the moment they graduate, public school students enjoy substantial rights to free speech, free press, assembly and religion. The First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, and the federal Equal Access Act confer important liberties on public school students that no school official may abridge unless the exercise of those rights materially and substantially interferes with school discipline.

    As the Department of Education Guidelines state, school officials must be neutral toward student religious expression. They may impose rules of order and place some restrictions on student activities, but they cannot structure or administer such rules in a way that discriminates against religious activity or speech.

    Teachers and administrators are prohibited from discouraging activity because of its religious content, and from soliciting or encouraging antireligious activity.

  • Ron in Houston

    Gary

    Seriously, you’re digging the latrine deeper with each comment. Stop while you’ve at least got some dignity left.

  • Gary

    The Watcher writes,

    Except now we have a 14th Amendment, so it doesn’t really matter what the First Amendment meant before it.

    Or, indeed, after it. The First Amendment, which expressly prohibits “an establishment of religion,” pertains to acts of Congress (and only to acts of Congress). The Fourteenth Amendment declares that states may not do certain things but does not expressly say whether, or to what extent, those things involve religion. If you are to find a prohibition against a prayer by a high school graduating class in the Fourteenth, you have to find it in the Due Process Clause (“nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”).

    Can you make a compelling case (1) that a high school class is a “state,” and (2) that its holding a prayer during a graduation ceremony constitutes said “state” depriving some person of liberty?

  • JulietEcho

    Just because students are the ones voting for the prayer at the ceremony doesn’t mean it’s any more acceptable. It’s still part of a public, government-sponsored event. The class could have a group prayer after the graduation or beforehand, so long as it’s optional and not part of anything officially sponsored by the school.

    It doesn’t matter whether it’s students, teachers, administrators, school board members, or the Secretary of Education who votes for it – the promotion of any particular religion (or arguably of religion over non-religion and vice versa) is off-limits at government events. Period.

  • Gary

    Ron writes,

    You’re at least making the argument that before the 14th Amendment and a bunch of cases in the 1890’s the the Bill of Rights didn’t apply to the states.

    I’m making the case

    (1) That the First Amendment didn’t apply to the states either before or after the 14th Amendment because the First Amendment refers to acts of Congress, not to acts of states, and

    (2) That the argument that the 14th Amendment “incorporates” the First Amendment seems to be based on nothing stronger than the claim that “the courts have said it, therefore it must be true” (from this it would be reasonable to infer that if the courts reverse themselves, as they do from time to time, we should then have to conclude that the claim is false).

    I would add that the Supreme Court’s “incorporation” of the First Amendment into the 14th did not occur in the 1890′s, but in 1947, seventy-nine years after the ratification of the 14th.

  • Gary

    Facts for Faith writes,

    As the Department of Education Guidelines state, school officials must be neutral toward student religious expression. They may impose rules of order and place some restrictions on student activities, but they cannot structure or administer such rules in a way that discriminates against religious activity or speech.

    Teachers and administrators are prohibited from discouraging activity because of its religious content, and from soliciting or encouraging antireligious activity.

    Considering the facts of the Workman v Greenwood case, it would seem to be an open question as to whether, in this instance, the school was being truly neutral in the matter of religious expression. The students were asked, or told, by the school to vote on whether they wanted to pray to a deity, or not to pray to a deity. They were not given an option to vote on whether they would prefer instead to publicly and collectively acknowledge and assert the non-existence of the deity.

  • Ron in Houston

    Gary

    Like I said – very nice backtracking and trying to cover the first few moronic statements.

    Anyway, I’ll play along -

    what part of

    No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States

    would not support the enforcement of the Bill of Rights upon the States?

    I am glad that you learned something today. Perhaps if you get out of home school more often you wouldn’t make inane statements in the beginning.

  • Gary

    Ron in Houston writes,

    What part of

    No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States

    would not support the enforcement of the Bill of Rights upon the States?

    The argument depends on the answer to the question, “What are the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States?” The immunities of citizens of the United States include immunity from religious activity mandated or permitted by act of Congress, as prescribed by the First Amendment, but the First Amendment plainly did not provide for immunity from religious activity mandated or permitted by the states.

    People such as Rev. Rutherford of Greenwood and “Facts for Faith” could even argue that the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States would include the privilege of a high school class to determine by vote whether it wishes to hold a prayer during its graduation ceremony. Such an argument would appeal to the very Privileges and Immunities clause of the the 14th Amendment about which you ask to assert that a state could not abridge such a privilege.

    In other words, you ask a question that begs the question.

  • Ron in Houston

    Gary –

    Did you read my question? It had nothing to do with religion. You totally ignored the question and then proceeded upon your predefined script that you were trying to make when you started this inane thread.

    Read the question again and this time try to answer, OK?

  • Gary

    Ron:

    Read the first sentence of my answer again and this time try to understand it, OK?

  • Ron in Houston

    Gary

    Answering a question with a question is simply a way to avoid answering the question.

    So I assume by your answer that you’re saying that the Bill of Rights is not “a privilege and immunities” of a United States citizen?

    The question is pretty simple – stop being a moron.

  • Ron in Houston

    For those who really give a crap at this point, I’m going to spend some time to point out what an idiot Gary really is…

    1. Gary said:

    I would add that the Supreme Court’s “incorporation” of the First Amendment into the 14th did not occur in the 1890’s, but in 1947, seventy-nine years after the ratification of the 14th.

    This is wrong on many levels. The case that first applied the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment was decided in 1947. The beginning of the “incorporation” doctrine began with the 14th amendment and was pretty much a decided doctrine by the mid to late 1890′s. I don’t remember exactly when the first 1st amendment case was but his statement is wholly inaccurate.

    2. Gary said:

    Considering the facts of the Workman v Greenwood case, it would seem to be an open question

    Well except for the fact that Workman v. Greenwood is an Indiana District Court case and has no precedent value.

    3. Gary said:

    that a high school class is a “state,” and (2) that its holding a prayer during a graduation ceremony constitutes said “state” depriving some person of liberty?

    “State” action is actually any action by government. No matter how low on the totem pole they may be. Not only does it apply to government established school districts but also things like government established water boards or transportation agencies.

    Come on Gary – you’ve dug that latrine pretty deep so far, want to bury yourself deeper in the s**t?

  • Gary

    Ron in Houston writes:

    So I assume by your answer that you’re saying that the Bill of Rights is not “a privilege and immunities” of a United States citizen?

    The First Amendment expressly reserved privileges and immunities vis-a-vis congressional action (and, by implication, not against state action). Amendments 2-9 asserted privileges and immunities, but did not specify against whom or what such privileges and immunities were reserved. In 1833 the Supreme Court asserted, in Barron v Baltimore , that they were reserved only against the federal government, not the states. The Tenth Amendment declared that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people,” without enumerating which powers might be reserved to the states and which powers might be reserved to the people. The 14th Amendment did not expressly assert an “incorporation” of the Bill of Rights against state action.

    The courts have generally NOT held that the Second Amendment has been incorporated against the states. There have been exceptions (as within the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals from Apr. to Sept. 2009). The Third Amendment was only incoporated against the states within the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The Seventh Amendment has never been incorporated anywhere, at any time.

    If you’re implying that the 14th Amendment provided for the incorporation of the Bill of Rights in toto against the states, the record of the courts would plainly say that you are mistaken. There’s a reason that the doctrine of Selective Incorporation is called selective incorporation.

    I will concede the theoretical possibility that you could be right and the courts wrong about the meaning of the Constitution. To claim this right, you need to concede that the Constitution doesn’t necessarily mean what the courts say it means.

  • The Watcher

    Gary, what are you talking about? You yourself admitted that the First Amendment was incorporated in 1947 (Everson v. Board of Ed). What else is there to discuss? It’s a done deal. Why are we still arguing about this?

  • Gary

    Ron in Houston writes,

    This is wrong on many levels. The case that first applied the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment was decided in 1947. The beginning of the “incorporation” doctrine began with the 14th amendment and was pretty much a decided doctrine by the mid to late 1890’s. I don’t remember exactly when the first 1st amendment case was but his statement is wholly inaccurate.

    You know, your case would be much strengthened if you could remember exactly when the Supreme Court incorporated the Establishment Clause against the states, and cite the case. The various rights enumerated in the First Amendment were actually incorporated at different times, from 1925 to 1947, in different cases. Whether the right to petition for redress of grievances has ever been incorporated is unclear. The case that incorporated the Establishment Clause was Everson v Board of Education.

    “State” action is actually any action by government. No matter how low on the totem pole they may be. Not only does it apply to government established school districts but also things like government established water boards or transportation agencies.

    And is a high school class “government”? You’re begging the question again.

  • Gary

    The Watcher writes:

    Gary, what are you talking about? You yourself admitted that the First Amendment was incorporated in 1947 (Everson v. Board of Ed). What else is there to discuss? It’s a done deal.

    It’s a done deal in the same way that Roe v Wade is a done deal — it’s done unless and until the Court reverses itself. Part of my point here is simply to demonstrate that this “done deal,” like Roe, rests on what appears to me to be some rather shaky constitutional ground. The fact that it took so long for the Court to “discover” that the Establishment Clause was incorporated should be enough to give one pause.

  • Ron in Houston

    Gee Gary

    I see that you’re good at using Google to rescue you from being labeled as a total and complete moron, but it really doesn’t matter that I didn’t cite Everson by memory.

    It’s also quite nice that you back tracked from your statement that “the Supreme Court’s “incorporation” of the First Amendment into the 14th did not occur in the 1890’s, but in 1947″ and now put the dates as between 1925 and 1947.

    That statement shows your complete and utter ignorance – first the 1st was not “incorporated” into the 14th amendment. The 14th amendment “incorporated” the first into the “privileges and immunities” clause and applied it to the states.

    But hey, the latrine is getting really deep – you’re all covered in crap at this point.

  • The Watcher

    Gary writes:

    It’s a done deal in the same way that Roe v Wade is a done deal — it’s done unless and until the Court reverses itself. Part of my point here is simply to demonstrate that this “done deal,” like Roe, rests on what appears to me to be some rather shaky constitutional ground. The fact that it took so long for the Court to “discover” that the Establishment Clause was incorporated should be enough to give one pause.

    So then, your argument is that had a whole bunch of rulings gone differently, you’d be right?

    Well, I guess it’s always fun to speculate. Yes, Gary, you’d be right, if everything were different from the way it actually is, and more like the way you wish it was.

  • Ron in Houston

    Watcher

    Think about it – religion is nothing more than a form of wishful thinking.

  • Gary

    Ron in Houston writes:

    It’s also quite nice that you back tracked from your statement that “the Supreme Court’s “incorporation” of the First Amendment into the 14th did not occur in the 1890’s, but in 1947? and now put the dates as between 1925 and 1947.

    Ah, ’tis true, I misspoke. It wasn’t the whole First Amendment that was incorporated in 1947. I should have said “the Establishment Clause.”

    I see that you’re good at using Google to rescue you from being labeled as a total and complete moron, but it really doesn’t matter that I didn’t cite Everson by memory.

    I have the sense that you’ve been Googling your brains out tonight, but that you weren’t good enough at it to find out about Everson.

    But hey, the latrine is getting really deep – you’re all covered in crap at this point.

    Yeah, good thing I’m standing on your shoulders, ain’t it? Googled “selective incorporation” yet, or do you still think that “the Bill of Rights is ‘a privilege and immunities’ of a United States citizen” [sic]?

  • Ron in Houston

    Oh yes, Gary, of course you just “misspoke.” That’s why you’ve gone from “What in the Constitution can reasonably be construed as prohibiting a high school class in Indiana from holding a prayer during their graduation ceremony?” to well it’s all about “selective incorporation.”

    I tell you what – Google this: Charles Allen Wright. He was my Con Law professor in law school. While I certainly don’t claim to be some constitutional law scholar I do know enough to know that you’re totally and completely full of crap.

  • JulietEcho

    Aww, Gary, I feel ignored – you never replied to my last comment. Does that mean that you take no issue with it?

  • Gary

    The Watcher asks:

    So then, your argument is that had a whole bunch of rulings gone differently, you’d be right?

    No, my argument is that, since my arguments are right, some rulings reasonably should have gone differently — and because my arguments are right, existing precedent could be overturned by a future Court without straining the Constitution. I’m not doing anything different than would be done in any classroom on constitutional law.

    You can, of course, argue that my arguments are not right, but wrong. In the context of the present discussion, mentioning court opinions in the course of your argument is a perfectly correct way of pointing out how the Constitution has been and is currently applied by the courts. It does not necessarily follow that a given court opinion represents the most logical interpretation of the Constitution — that is, that it’s a good opinion. Else, by golly, you’d better just say that “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance is perfectly constitutional, and that’s the end of that.

    In 1857, Horace Greeley wrote in the New York Tribune, describing Dred Scott, “This decision, we need hardly say, is entitled to just such moral weight as would be the judgment of a majority of those congregated in any Washington bar-room.” Abraham Lincoln put it somewhat more judiciously (pun intended) in 1861 when he declared, “I do not forget the position assumed by some that constitutional questions are to be decided by the Supreme Court, nor do I deny that such decisions must be binding in any case upon the parties to a suit as to the object of that suit, while they are also entitled to very high respect and consideration in all parallel cases by all other departments of the Government. And while it is obviously possible that such decision may be erroneous in any given case, still the evil effect following it, being limited to that particular case, with the chance that it may be overruled and never become a precedent for other cases, can better be borne than could the evils of a different practice. At the same time, the candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the Government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made in ordinary litigation between parties in personal actions the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their Government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.” My own comments are somewhat in the spirit of those like Lincoln and Greeley who criticized the Dred Scott opinion — just because the Supreme Court had issued it didn’t mean it wasn’t a piece of crap (to coin a phrase).

    Yes, Gary, you’d be right, if everything were different from the way it actually is, and more like the way you wish it was.

    I don’t think I’ve said or implied very much about the way I wish things were. I simply draw a distinction between what I wished the Constitution said and what it actually says.

  • Ron in Houston

    Honestly Gary, I am pretty impressed with your research skills. I never knew there were ANY third amendment cases. I’d actually be interested to see how in the heck that case ever came to be in the court system.

  • Kevin

    Hey, Gary, I’m still curious: would you consider a [state] law which explicitly required parents to take their children to a church service every Sunday, on penalty of imprisonment, to be constitutional? If not, on which grounds would it fail?

  • AxeGrrl

    JulietEcho, great post (@ 12:03pm)

    Not sure why the conversation has gone on so ‘voluminously’ after it.

  • Gary

    JulietEcho:

    Sorry, didn’t mean to ignore you. I wasn’t sure whether your comment was direct at me.

    OK, it seemed to me you were making an ex cathedra statement or series of statements, not an argument about constitutional interpretation. I say that because you made no attempt to justify them by reference to anything the Constitution actually says, so I thought maybe you were simply expressing some kind of personal preference.

    I think I’ve made it clear that I believe that your statements would be weak on Fourteenth Amendment grounds, and would fail completely on First Amendment grounds. If you applied your statements to the House and Senate and their chaplains and opening prayers instead of to a high school class, you’d certainly have a compelling First Amendment case as far as I’m concerned. All I can say say is “good luck” getting either Congress or the courts to agree with you there. Don’t you agree that it’s rather odd that what appear to be clear violations of the Establishment Clause are ignored by the courts with regard to congressional (and military) chaplains, the national motto, and the Pledge of Allegiance, while the courts at the same time have tripped all over themselves in finding “violations” of the Clause in things that might well not be so?

    We’ll have to see what the ruling is in the Greenwood, Indiana case — if there is one. Eric Workman says that he “objects to prayer at graduation because he does not believe that anyone should be involuntarily subject to prayer and religious exercise. The people participating in, and attending, graduation should not be compelled to be involved in a religious exercise.” Does this present a compelling reason for the court to agree that he has standing to sue, or is it weak enough that the court can assert that he has no standing and refuse to consider the case on the merits? I don’t know, but a court might be happy to take the opportunity to punt on a case of this nature, as courts are wont to do. It seems to me that, if Workman’s argument gives him standing to sue, you’d have standing too, because, (a) like Workman, you appear to believe that no one participating in a graduation exercise should be subject to having to listen to a prayer conducted during the exercise, and (b) it’s not likely that you would be prohibited from attending the ceremony if you wanted to show up. And yet I can’t imagine a court agreeing that you have standing.

    If the court does rule on the merits, I don’t know what the ruling will be, but if the ruling contradicts your statements, would that “prove” that your statements must have been wrong? Why or why not?

  • Gary

    Kevin asks:

    Hey, Gary, I’m still curious: would you consider a [state] law which explicitly required parents to take their children to a church service every Sunday, on penalty of imprisonment, to be constitutional? If not, on which grounds would it fail?

    I’d say that it would fail on Fourteenth Amendment grounds. First, unlike the Greenwood, Indiana case, your hypothetical clearly posits a state law, not the actions of a group that are not themselves a state agency. Second, I would argue that such a law would infringe on the liberty of parents to raise their children as they see fit, subject to some minimal standards of reasonableness. Note, however, that the question of religion doesn’t really enter into it. The argument would be the same if the law required parents to bring their children to classical music concerts on Sundays instead of to church.

  • Kevin

    Howdy Gary,

    “…not the actions of a group that are not
    themselves a state agency.”

    Point of clarification: are the school administrators who
    1) Put the question on a poll, “should there be a prayer at the graduation ceremony?”
    2) Delivered poll to the students
    3) Collected and tabulated the poll results
    4) Incorporated a religious ceremony into the graduation ceremony on the basis of said poll results
    …members of a state agency?

    “Second, I would argue that such a law would infringe on the liberty of parents to raise their children as they see fit, subject to some minimal standards of reasonableness.”

    Is it within these “minimal standards of reasonableness” for parents to decide which religious ceremonies their children will and will not need to attend? Is it within the “minimal standards of reasonableness” to expect that a student who has met the graduation criteria, particularly one who achieved the honor of valedictorian, to be able to attend his or her graduation ceremony without having to also attend a religious ceremony which is contrary to his or her religious beliefs?

    Finally, setting all legalese aside, here’s more of an ethical question: would you consider it a hardship on the students or administration, had the administration simply *not* put the “prayer option” on the poll in the first place? If your son or daughter came home from school and said, “I really wish we could do a group prayer during graduation, but my teachers didn’t poll the student body to see if a majority of students also wanted that.”, would you think her freedom of religious expression was being infringed upon? What if we replace “graduation” with “spelling bee”, “geography quiz bowl”, “after school soccer game”, or any other public school activity? If your answer is “no reasonable person would construe the lack of such a poll in this context to be an infringement of religious expression”; and you can hopefully see how those of a minority religious view *might* reasonably consider such polling to *be* an infringement of their religious expression; could you at least agree that the polling in question here is the less ethicially upstanding route for the administration to take?

  • TXatheist

    This exact thing happened in Round Rock ISD 2 years ago and they were told you can’t violate the Constitution even if the majority of students vote for prayer. I called up the Superintendent and voiced my concern and gave the following analogy to see if he could get it, he didn’t. When my son grows up and becomes valedictorian he will say xians are stupid and the bible is a fairy tale for the ignorant to which he only replied we don’t allow students to call others stupid.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    I never knew there were ANY third amendment cases. I’d actually be interested to see how in the heck that case ever came to be in the court system.

    Ron, you can google Engblom v. Carey if you’re curious.

  • HankTheCowdog

    When I graduated high school [1985], we had an entire ceremony the day before graduation (I have thankfully forgotten what it’s called) where the minister from the local Church of Christ spent around an hour telling us how mean, stupid, and hopeless we were (there had been a student suicide that year), and how we needed to believe in God. It was one of the most appalling experiences of my life (my parents wouldn’t let me stay home–”Oh, no, you don’t want to miss part of graduation!”) and I’m pleased to note that my high school discontinued this event several years ago.

  • Killer_Bee

    2) Does anyone really believe he’d start praising Allah at a graduation ceremony if he lived in a Muslim nation?

    Of course not. But, he may be willing to sit quietly and politely through a ceremony invoking the deity of choice for everyone around him – insane as that deity is.

    I don’t have a problem with majorities being able to dictate their will respecting trivial matters like graduation, or prom, or just about anything else having to do with HS.
    If a majority want to be all about Jesus for a few minutes I’m be OK with the rest having to sit and bear it. In this case, I’d tolerate the Jesus-talk. What I wouldn’t do is waste taxpayer money and limited local resources on yet one more battle in the culture war brought to you by demagogues and fanatics.

    He’s valedictorian. Won’t he be given a podium whence to address his classmates? He could’ve used that as an opportunity to expound on separation of church and state.

    Even if he wins…so what.

  • Vas

    You know what would be cool. To see a video of the drunken students at graduation parties, you know the same students who voted overwhelming to have a prayer at their graduation and yet were totally faced hours later. It would prove nothing but still might be a satisfying watch. I wonder…What would Jesus binge drink,(WWJBD)?

  • Lauren

    Hemant,
    While I agree completely with your stance on this issue and I appreciate you making it visible to a larger public, the second line of your text–”It’s illegal, it’s unconstitutional, it’s… Indiana. That explains it”–was unnecessary and condescending. Plenty of people here in Indianapolis stand behind this young man, and it may surprise you but the second largest religious group at this Greenwood High School is Sikhism, due to a community of around 2 or 3 thousand families living in the area. In all likelihood the school will withdraw the prayer before this goes to court, because we know it doesn’t stand a chance of winning. You make it sound like Indiana is an anomaly here, when these sort of prayers-in-school controversies still take place all over the country, and not just in the “red” states (or “purple” like Indiana seems to be these days).

  • Harrison

    Oh this will be interesting. I graduate next year, and my school does this same crap with voting for or against prayer.


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