Instead of taking on Bastrop High School in Louisiana separately, several organizations have banded together to send the Bastrop Independent School District a letter of disapproval (PDF). It’s a nice gesture, but it won’t ultimately make any difference.
Notice how the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, and ACLU of Louisiana are tiptoeing around any threat of a lawsuit.
Our organizations are deeply troubled by Bastrop High School’s long history of presenting prayers as part of the official program at graduation ceremonies. Although the Supreme Court made it abundantly clear almost two decades ago that public schools cannot include prayers as part of school events, School District officials have persisted with this practice.
Only when a student complained and threatened to sue did the School District take steps to discontinue the practice by replacing the prayer with a moment-of-silence. The steps taken, however, were far from effective. Instead of having a school official introduce the moment-of- silence — which would have ensured that the opportunity was not abused — school officials turned to a student. Not surprisingly, the student chose to deliver the Lord’s Prayer — while school officials sat idly by. To date, no apology has been delivered to the community by Bastrop High School officials or the Board of Trustees, for either past or recent events.
It is certainly not surprising that the student did not obey the School’s express directions, for she has been educated by a school system that has itself chosen to flout constitutional requirements. The school system’s longstanding disregard for constitutional norms has predictably bred a culture of noncompliance. This persistent culture will remain entrenched unless and until the School District takes at least some of the following actions:
- Issue a statement to the community and its students explaining the District’s legal duty to enforce and abide by the legal prohibition on the public schools’ sponsorship of graduation prayer, and assuring the community that past events will not recur. The School should use this opportunity to further its mission to educate the community and future graduating classes about legal requirements.
- Issue an apology to the student complainant, who was treated as a pariah not just by the community but by the School itself. Instead, he should have been honored for protecting a precious constitutional principle and calling the District’s attention to a longstanding, egregious violation of the law.
- Consider disciplining the student for insubordination to the same extent that it would discipline other similar infractions, insofar as the District retains jurisdiction to do so. The student’s insubordination is especially troubling here because of the School’s history of sponsoring and encouraging prayers in the past.
- In the future, the school system should ensure that graduation exercises are not exploited to present religious messages. The moment-of-silence can be presented by a school official rather than a student. If a student is used, the District cannot passively sit by if the student once again abuses this opportunity.
We urge Bastrop Independent School District officials to assure the community of their intent to comply with constitutional requirements. A decision to remain silent would serve to confirm that the prayer that was presented at the 2011 graduation was just the most recent in a long line of unconstitutional District-sponsored prayers.
Is anyone expecting school officials to do anything in response? They knew exactly what violations they were committing before Damon Fowler called them out on it. They knew what they were doing when they allowed a Christian student to say the Lord’s Prayer during graduation. And this letter hardly encourages them to stop the violations.
(via Americans United)