High School Students Vote On Saying a Graduation Prayer; Judge Says No

Imagine if high school students were given a ballot by their administration to vote on whether or not Creationism ought to be taught in their science classrooms. And imagine if most of them voted, “Yes! Teach it!”

It wouldn’t matter. Creationism isn’t science and it should stay out of the classroom, regardless of how many people want it to be taught.

What if students voted in favor of a prayer to be read over the intercom each morning during class?

It wouldn’t matter. Still illegal.

Yet, the administration at Greenwood High School in Indiana seem to think it’s ok to have students vote on saying a prayer during their graduation ceremony. The students voted in favor of the prayer, but that still doesn’t make it legal.

I guess those of us who see that know more about the law than the school’s attorney:

“The school did not endorse religion! It hasn’t coerced anyone. It hasn’t done anything wrong! It’s merely giving students a forum for which they can seek and express their own viewpoints,” said Attorney Judy Woods.

The school gave students a ballot asking if they wanted to pray. That is an endorsement of prayer.

Look, if students want to pray when they graduate, they can. Hell, I think a valedictorian who wants to thank god in her speech giving her academic strength (or whatever) should be allowed to do so.

But there can be no “official prayer” at a graduation. It doesn’t matter what the students want.

At least Judge Sarah Evans Barker knows better:

U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker late Friday issued a preliminary injunction against Greenwood High School, which had planned the prayer at its May 28 commencement.

The lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana claimed the prayer and a senior class vote approving it unconstitutionally subjected religious practice to majority rule.

Barker’s ruling says the vote to allow the prayer and the prayer itself violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

This is an easy call to make. Students ought to be embarrassed by the adults in their building who don’t even understand basic concepts of the law. What sort of education are you going to get when your school is run by people like this? I at least hope some teachers were vocal against this idea.

By the way, here’s the kicker.

The lawsuit against the school was filed by the school’s valedictorian, Eric Workman. If you go to this posting from a couple months ago, you can find a link to the original lawsuit.

Like I said before, I can’t wait to read a transcript of his valedictorian speech.

(via Skeptic Money)

  • Mike

    It wouldn’t matter. Creationism isn’t science and it should stay out of the classroom, regardless of how many people want it to be taught.

    Says who?? Hemant, you are on VERY DANGEROUS ground here. What you are essentially saying is that you know what is best for the people and they do not, and therefore you have the right to dictate what they will learn, do, etc. And that sounds an awful lot like a dictatorship to me…

  • David

    @Mike: You’ve got it around the wrong way. So there are two options here: have the school-endorsed prayer, or don’t have the school-endorsed prayer.

    The first option implies that the school thinks its students should pray, and will take it upon itself to choose the religion and subject of the prayer. The second option means that individual students can choose for themselves.

    You might say the students “chose for themselves” when they were given a vote; but in that case, a majority of students have made this personal decision for anyone who disagrees. The vote should never have been given because this simply isn’t something that a majority vote should be allowed to decide.

  • http://alliedatheistalliance.blogspot.com/ advertisinglies

    @Mike – are you being serious? Creationism IS NOT science. It’s theology and has no place being taught as if it were in any way based on scientific principles. The mental gymnastics required to jump to ‘dictatorship’ from the comment you quoted are mind boggling, please PLEASE tell me you’re joking…

    At least the valedictorian has his head on straight. I’d say the kids who voted yes to the prayer ought to get a big fat F in their American government classes.

  • Johann

    What you are essentially saying is that you know what is best for the people and they do not, and therefore you have the right to dictate what they will learn, do, etc.

    The horrible, horrible dictatorship of fact-based education, where schools are only supposed to be teaching things actually backed by evidence instead of popular fantasies. So glad you caught that one early, Mike.

  • Jim [different Jim]

    @Mike. Are you kidding? Hemant is completely right, it’s NOT science. There are classes and entire schools dedicated to religion. It would be no different than students in a mechanics class voting to have botany taught in their class. It’s simply not the place and majority vote is NOT always acceptable. Besides, the key issue here is the First Ammendment. The tyranny of the majority is not acceptable.

  • http://onestdv.blogspot.com OneSTDV

    I’ll echo the “Mike, are you kidding?” comments above. In science, there’s a thing called truth. Demanding that our children be taught the truth isn’t a sign of an totalitarian authority.

    As for the lawsuit: It takes massive balls to file it. I can’t imagine the backlash.

  • Epistaxis

    I’m gonna ignore the troll named Mike and focus on the point of the post: it’s very disappointing when a majority vote has to be overruled by a court, even though the majority is wrong and the court is right. This is going to make countless young people worry about “judicial activism,” especially with apparently no informed adults around to explain that the Constitution protects the rights of the minority.

    Incidentally, though, I’d like to know how that ballot came out. If every single student voted in favor of prayer, I guess it’d still be illegal, but it would be an even more unfortunate position to have to take.

  • Icyclectic

    Ugh, people keep on falling into this intellectual trap, thinking that democracy makes everything right. They fail to understand that the US constitution goes out of its way not to protect democracy, but to protect minorities against majority rule. Pure democracy is mob rule.

  • ihedenius

    Imagine if high school students were given a ballot by their administration to vote on whether or not Creationism ought to be taught in their science classrooms. And imagine if most of them voted, “Yes! Teach it!”

    It least it would be a short curriculum:
    goddidit

  • Bertram Cabot, Jr.

    The conclusion that science implies atheism is a Philosophical one and does not belong in science class.

    Teachers who have tried to imply that have been successfully sued.

  • Bertram Cabot, Jr.

    Why is this blog called the “Friendly” atheist?

    I see little friendly about it; but I do see plenty censorship and ridicule.

  • http://findingmyfeminism.blogspot.com/ Not Guilty

    Thankfully there are judges in the US that do not fall into the trap of majority rule. Why there are “votes” on gay marriage I will never understand. The majority never would have given civil rights to minorities in the 60s, but most people don’t have a problem with it now. It is for government and judges to do what is right regardless of the what the majority thinks is right. Granting rights to one group (eg. gay marriage) does not take away from the rights of others (eg. heterosexual). When I read about the many stupid judges in the US, this one makes me happy.

  • http://struckbyenlightning.wordpress.com EnlightningLinZ

    The valedictorian should quote that passage from Matthew in his speech… The one that talks about not praying in public.

  • david

    so if they voted on it its ok what if they all voted to attend wearing a freshly killed sheeps head if they voted for it then it ok right ? bollocks

    I dont care if people have a religion or not but at group events like this one groups views should not trample on those that have a different one

    if they wanted a religious event then have a seperate graduation with as much religion as they want but allow those that dont care for it to enjoy their day as well

  • http://atheistreadsbible.blogspot.com/ Jude

    They’re praying at *my* high school’s graduation. They voted on it. I have complained. Nothing will happen.

  • Drew

    It’s funny: a few years ago when I was a full-fledged right-winger (Bush cured me), I thought the ACLU was the scourge of the universe. Now I’m considering joining.

  • Citizen Z

    Well, hell, they should’ve just had the kids in Fulton, Mississippi vote on whether or not to allow lesbians at the prom. That would’ve made everything hunky-dory!

    (Except to fascist dictators like Hemant who want to dictate what they do and cram ideas like “equal protection under the law” down people’s throats.)

  • fritzy

    ““The school did not endorse religion!”

    No, just prayer. How you separate that from religion, I don’t know, but you appear well schooled in mental gymnastics, Ms, Woods, so I’m sure you’ll find a way.

    “It hasn’t coerced anyone.”

    With the possible exception of the minority who voted against the prayer. But they’re elitist heathens anyway, so they kind of have it coming.

    “It hasn’t done anything wrong!”

    No, just unconstitutional. Except trying to coerce others to believe can be viewed as wrong. Oh, right, you already covered that; it’s not coercion. My bad.

    “It’s merely giving students a forum for which they can seek and express their own viewpoints,”

    So I guess you’ll be OK with the non-religious students and the others who voted against the prayer providing a rebuttal after said prayer is finished?

    From what cereal box did Ms. Woods obtain her law diploma?

  • Richard Wade

    Bertram Cabot, Jr. you asked,

    Why is this blog called the “Friendly” atheist?
    I see little friendly about it; but I do see plenty censorship and ridicule.

    It’s friendly because several atheists like myself hang around here who are willing to talk respectfully to people like yourself. I won’t be censoring or ridiculing you.

    If by censorship you mean the prohibition of a school endorsed prayer, censorship is not the issue. The issue is separation of church and state. The school in question is a public high school, funded by all the taxpayers in the community. Whether unilaterally decided by the school administration or by a vote of the senior students, the imposition of a particular religious ritual into the graduation ceremony forces people to pay for religious activities and promotion that they may not necessarily believe in. This has been tested time and again in the courts, and despite the very clear legal principles that are simple enough for most children to understand, public school administrations keep making the same foolish blunder.

    The freedom of religion in this country is not determined by majority vote. It is protected by the Constitution, and that was very much intended to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. In a constitutional democracy, not just any whim of the majority can be put to a vote. If that were the case, then the students of that high school could just as easily vote to kick all the Jews or the people of color out of their school.

    Unfortunately, many Americans who are in the present religious majority lose sight of the fact that a strong separation of church and state protects their freedom to worship as they choose. If that separation ever erodes even worse than it already has, those naive people will not end up being happy about it. They will be told exactly how to worship by government authority, and it won’t exactly fit their preferences. When has the government ever handled something complicated and sensitive exactly to your liking?

    Bertram, by ridicule, I’m not sure to what you are referring on this thread. People sometimes find other people’s beliefs, opinions and actions to be ridiculous. It is completely legitimate to point out why they think those beliefs, opinions and actions are ridiculous. No idea should be above challenge. I’m continually encouraging people here to avoid ridiculing the person with the beliefs that they find ridiculous, but sometimes that line gets crossed.

    Stick around, and you’ll see that while not perfect, this place can foster respectful dialogue between people with differing viewpoints, and while there might not always be agreement, at least there can be mutual understanding.

  • Bob

    @Bertram:

    I’m a Catholic/Christian, and I agree: Creationism is not science.

    Science is testable, verifiable, independently repeatable. Hemant drops a rock, it falls. I drop a rock, it falls. We can both verify the other’s experiment.

    The Bible, as it stands, is not testable. There’s a large difference between saying, “The Star of Bethlehem is a miracle placed in the sky by God” and “The Star of Bethlehem may have been one of two planetary conjunctions, easily observed by astronomers/astrologers, with appropriate connotations, and which give us a possible glimpse into the timeframe of Jesus’ birth.”

    To that end, when the answer is, “It’s a miracle, and you don’t need to understand it,” it actually works against scientific inquiry and even curiousity.

    Oh, and the folks here have been very welcoming and open to rational discussion, even when my perspective is shaped by my faith.

  • muggle

    I look forward to his speech and hope it’s posted on-line too. You’ve got to admire Mr. Workman’s courage. At the very least, it should be inspiring coming from someone who knows his mind and has the courage to pursue justice.

    Sadly, all too many in this country are still under the delusion that might equals right. They do not even know how the government under which they live works. Or is supposed to work, anyway.

  • Bob

    Now, on to the subject at hand …

    A majority vote, while generally thought of as a democratic process, can also be used to suppress freedom. Note that instances like elections and jury trials are not simple tallies of opinion, but framed specifically within the law.

    You would think that a religion wherein a pre-eminent figure was crucified because of a majority vote to ‘Free Barrabbas!’ would be more mindful of this. (Though, it would seem not – Christians supporting some of our politicians don’t see anything wrong with torture and military commissions, either.)

  • Citizen Z

    The conclusion that science implies atheism is a Philosophical one and does not belong in science class.

    Teachers who have tried to imply that have been successfully sued.

    I agree with that completely and I expect most, if not all, of the other commenters would as well.

    It also has nothing to do with what is being discussed, since keeping Creationism out of the classroom, or even teaching that Creationism is false, is not the same as teaching that science implies atheism.

  • Heidi

    All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that 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.

    -Thomas Jefferson

    Just wanted to let one of the founding fathers weigh in on the issue.

  • alex

    They can vote all they want. In the end, the school still cannot enforce whatever decision was made. Even if it implicitly endorses religion by not interfering when students impose unfair decisions made by “majority”, that still has no merit.

    I don’t understand, why it is so hard to accept — pray, but leave those who don’t want to out of it.

  • numsix

    Would a prayer club for interested students be that hard?
    Those that want can, those that don’t are not forced.

  • me

    “Why is this blog called the ‘Friendly’ atheist? I see little friendly about it; but I do see plenty censorship and ridicule.”

    –I strongly disagree that any censorship is practiced here. But I think the comment about “friendly” is right on target. Although I agree the the bloggers here on the vast majority of issues, Hemant’s comments are often snide and dismissive, and occasionally downright rude and nasty. Renaming the blog “Atheist” would probably be appropriate.

  • Lore

    “I strongly disagree that any censorship is practiced here. But I think the comment about “friendly” is right on target.”

    “Why is this blog called the ‘Friendly’ atheist? I see little friendly about it; but I do see plenty censorship and ridicule.”

    While I am sure you have thought through your comments, this is perhaps not the place to be attacking Hemant’s Character or his naming of the blog (though I of course respectfully disagree that it is misnamed, but opinions can be different)

    I think it is a little ridiculous that this is still an issue, to be honest. Anything government funded, especially a program aimed at minors, must remain neutral politically and religiously. It is disconcerting to say the least that children might be being convinced to believe something without any sort of outside balance, and parents don’t even seem to have a say.

    I also think it is silly that schools still think they can get away with it. The valedictorian makes me feel a little bit happier for the youth of America.

  • me

    Lore,

    My comments are not intended to be an attack on Hemant’s character. I surely do not know him well enough to judge his character (I don’t know him at all), nor would I be particularly inclined to do so even if I did know him.

    Nor do I really care what he calls his blog.

    Nor do I disagree with your comments about the improper role many wish for religion to play in American life.

    Nor do I disagree with your support for the valedictorian.

    Nor do I disagree that this particular post does not especially raise this issue.

    But I do think that the snide remarks which abound on blog posts on this website are wholly counterproductive. And it is an issue that makes itself apparent if you read the blog on a daily basis and is worth discussing. But it’s never going to be germane to the original post, unless Hemant decides to make post saying something like, “Do you think this blog is too snide?” I don’t anticipate him doing that, since it’s not the blog’s mission.

    Why do I care? Because you do not engage in healthy debate by demeaning the positions of those who disagree with you, a point Hemant has made on many occasions. The result is that Friendly Atheist does little more than preach to the choir. I’m part of the choir, so I enjoy the preaching, and I find it informative. But this is not a place I’d direct a religious friend to go to learn about atheism, which I think is part of Hemant’s mission.

    I would add that, in this regard, Hemant is actually better than many. (Certainly, the comments tend to be far more extreme in tone.) But, that doesn’t mean that he couldn’t live up to a much higher standard, and be more productive in so doing.

  • Roxane

    How many times do these things have to go through the courts before people get it?

  • aerie

    I know I’m late with a comment but I wish I had the stones this kid has. We have HS grad ceremonies in 3 wks for my senior. Much prayer & scripture reading will take place. I’m in the South, you “bes watch yer back” if you ‘persecute’ their right to pray & thump.

    We do have a new “citified” principal, & GASP! she’s a young black woman (I secretly enjoyed their red-faced frustration over this). But, she, too is from the South & I don’t know of many black ‘out’ atheists so I’m sure she’ll be prayin’ right along w/ them.

    Mr. Workman gives me hope for our youth & he is clearly on to bigger & better things. However,I hold NO hope for the deeply ingrained religiosity and ignorance of the South. I was born & raised here, I know the mindset all too well.

  • Christian

    i agree 100%, and to everyone out their who is angered by this, creationism is NOT a science, infact no religion has any scientific basis and the moment u try to prove it with science u will be destroyed. The reason evolution is taught is because it is a scientific law, really has never been challenged in the scientific community, and anyone who tries to argue, micro or macro evolution normaly dosent understand the actual theory. Instead they state “I did not come from a monkey, ” And proceed to throw their bible. Infact science actually has more support over the big bang theory (another concept people fail to do research on, and is personaly a very interesting concept) then it does with creationism. Just so we are clear, if u want to believe creationism i do not care, go ahead, im not going to try and disprove your religion unless you try and prove it.

    As for prayer im ok with, and i am not a christian, i am a pagan. The moment they try and MAKE me pray i will be angery, but if u want to pray in school go ahead, it dosent hurt anyone. Those who dont want to proticipate, well, dont. It isnt a forced thing to pray, but i also do not think it should be a forced thing to not pray. Im all for freedom of religion =)

    If any want to discuss topics (maturly, even tho i spelled the word wrong) my email is cjmatthews1994@yahoo.com I will get back to you asap on any topic, and if i am not knowligable (another mispelling, not my strong suit) i will tell you so and not make up stuff. =)