More Public School Prayers

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has filed a lawsuit against Medina Valley Independent School District in Castroville, Texas because they have every intention to say a prayer during a June 4th graduation ceremony. This comes after a more polite letter was ignored by district officials:

Americans United filed the lawsuit on behalf of Christa and Danny Schultz, who have two children in the district, including a son who is scheduled to graduate this year. Members of the Schultz family are agnostics and do not believe official prayers should be part of a school-sponsored event. The son has indicated he may not attend the graduation ceremony if prayers are included.

That sounds bad enough… but the Freedom From Religion Foundation found a violation that’s even worse (PDF).

Turns out there was a prayer to Jesus, delivered by a clergy member, at Pulaski Elementary School in Giles County, Tennessee:

The fact that this prayer was delivered at a kindergarten graduation is even more egregious. The graduating kindergarten children, as young as five, who have previously been taught prayer by their teachers and are again subjected to religious ritual on their big graduation day cannot possibly be able to discern that the school district does not endorse the religious messages embodied in the graduation prayers.

This comes after an incident at the same school where students were taught a Godly song this past school year:

Oh, the Lord’s been good to me.
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me the things I need:
The sun, the rain and the appleseed;
Oh, the Lord’s been good to me.

Oh, and every seed I sow
Will grow into a tree.
And someday there’ll be apples there
For everyone in the world to share.
Oh, the Lord is good to me.

The director of schools even responded (PDF), saying nothing like this would happen again.

Guess they all only have short-term memory in Giles County…

The lawsuits can’t come soon enough. It’s bad enough to indoctrinate high school students who might be pressured into not complaining, but five-year-olds who don’t even know what’s going on? Is that the only way these people think their mythology can survive?

(via Religion Clause)

  • CanadianNihilist

    I never knew American schools had an abundance of money they didn’t need.

  • Don Rose

    We have to keep after them, until they finally “get it”.

  • Rich Wilson

    We’re looking for a pre-school for my four year old son. My wife found a really cheap (an important consideration for her) one run by an evangelical church. She naively (she’s not from the US) didn’t see how it could possibly be all that religious…

    Just looking at their website and thinking of him being indoctrinated with all that crap scared me enough. I don’t have to send him there (and certainly won’t), but if he got that in his public school? I’m be livid. And suing. And homeschooling until things got fixed.

  • Tony

    My daughter was singing that “The Lord is good to me” song only she was singing “the world is good to me” instead. She probably assumed that “the Lord” was a phrase she misheard and opted for one that actually made sense instead.

  • Golden

    My 6 year old daughter has come home several times telling me things her teacher has said relating to god. Including that Jesus made the days and nights. She also sings a song to students on their birthday “God bless you, god bless you.”

    Needless to say, I am not happy about it, but don’t know what to do about it either.

  • Richard Wade

    I first heard that song when I was a small boy in Disney’s Johnny Appleseed, an animated film released in 1948. I couldn’t find if the lyrics pre-date the film.

    Funny, I definitely remember being annoyed and slightly nauseated by that song, but I didn’t know why.

  • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com/ gloomcookie613

    In the words of Cardinal Glick (as played by the wonderful George Carlin):

    “Fill them pews, people, that’s the key. Grab the little ones as well. Hook ‘em while they’re young!”

  • http://amillionwordstogo.blogspot.com aynsavoy

    I remember that song from summer camp. I think I liked it (despite being a born and bred atheist) just because I loved singing.

    Definitely a problem in high schools, where most students won’t question it. Even more of a problem in elementary school where most students won’t even realize that they can.

  • What would Prof. Pat Pending do?

    I remember having to sing the Johnny Appleseed song that Richard Wade mentioned before lunch in public school (Ontario) in the 80s. If you didn’t sing, or did so mockingly, you’d be kicked out of the lunchroom and forced to eat in the hall.

    I wonder if Mr. Bungle would have approved.

  • http://www.AtheistsHelpingtheHomeless.org Joe Zamecki

    By the way, Texas parents and students are welcome to contact me about these types of state/church issues in public schools. American Atheists wants to help as well. I’m AA’s Texas State Director, and I’m dying to send out letters like these. :)

    jzamecki at atheists dot org

  • Claudia

    @Golden,

    Contact Americans United or your local chapter of the ACLU and they can probably give you advice on your options.

    I don’t know where you live, but if you are in a relatively secular area it could be that your daughter’s teacher is going against standing school policy. In that case a conversation with the principal about your concerns might be enough. However in many places, these people knowlingly break the law because they are protected by superiors equally uninterested in honoring the constitution or the rights of the children in their care.

    If you don’t want to contemplate legal action and a friendly resolution is not an option, you may want to look into switching schools or secular homeschooling. Alternatively you can wait until your daughter comes home asking if you and her are going to hell or that “god made all the animals and evolution is a lie” and sort out the ensuing mess afterwards.

  • Richard Wade

    but five-year-olds who don’t even know what’s going on? Is that the only way these people think their mythology can survive?

    To offer you an elaborate, thoughtful, fully considered answer,

    yeah.

  • Lin

    We used to sing the Johnny Appleseed song before lunch every day in grade 1. It ended with “Johnny Appleseed(clap)Amen!
    This was around 1983 in Canada, when we still said The Lord’s Prayer every morning as well.

  • wasd

    No doubt teachers and school officials will come up with the usual “every couple of years there is one or two atheistic kids but they never complain” talk.

    A quick rundown of the relevant facts from the 2008 American religious identification survey:
    11% of old and young in Texas is non-religious.
    9% of old and young in Tennessee is non-religious.
    But these figures tend to be quite a bit higher among younger Americans
    22% of Americans between 18 and 29 is non-religious
    32% of non religious Americans say they were non religious at age 12.
    Many of these have one or two religious parents, who might be less likely to stand up for the freedom of conscience and constitutional rights of their children.

    All of these 2008 figures were growing significantly compared to a similar survey in 1990.

    The Texas education system might try and make one secular Thomas cut-and-paste Jefferson disappear from the pages of its history textbooks, but it cant plaster over all these students. Student who are slightly more likely to finish college and or a post graduate education, less likely to get pregnant in their teens (accounting income, for abortion etc). The constitution matters a great deal but even if it didn’t then 22% of students still deserve a graduation ceremony that doesn’t go out of it way to exclude them the way the bullies in the videos from Louisiana did.

    A moment of silence for everybody.

    Face the facts, follow the law.

    • Concerned Agnostic Citizen

      Here’s the law:

      “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
      prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of
      the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the
      Government for a redress of grievances.”

      I don’t see anything in there about allowing students to pray in graduation.  And for that matter, anything about a local school district opting what vernacular to use in their curriculum.  Remember, school district staff serve in Texas at the behest of the local School Board, who is in turn elected by the local citizens.  So if there is really that much of an issue, then vote for a Board member that you agree with.

      For those of you unfamiliar with the case, the family was trying to restrict the rights of the Valedictorian to say a prayer at her high school graduation that she personally drafted and delivered.  In other words, the plaintiff felt he was within his rights to force others to comply with his beliefs in a predominantly Christian community.

  • Tom

    “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” — alleged Jesuit saying

  • CharlesHelms

    I was shocked to find out that Dan Barker, who was at KU in Lawerence, Ks. about a month ago, gets a pretty good income from these lawsuits.

    He is still making money off of religion.

  • Brit

    I wish I hadn’t been a clueless high schooler. When I graduated, not only was there a prayer, but we had a local pastor giving a sermon at my ceremony. Even though I was a Christian at the time, I didn’t think it was right. I just didn’t know that there was something that could be done about it.

  • Giles County Resident

    i am an atheist that lives in giles county. To say what’s done here is contrary to the separation of church and state is egregious is putting it mildly.

    …they pray for god’s blessing before the candidates give their speeches on the town square

    …they say a prayer before each-and-ever county government meeting (it’s on the agenda!)

    …and at the county fair, they pray for the drivers before the demolition derby.

    Nothing’s going to change here… your only hope is to homeschool until you can move. I’m glad I don’t have kids!

    • Surprise

      Wow! I never thought of homeschooling as the antidote to religious public schools. That’s really bad.

  • TheG

    @gloomcookie613

    “Fill them pews, people, that’s the key. Grab the little ones as well. Hook ‘em while they’re young!”

    The key is his next line when someone compares the catholic church to the tobacco industry. He replies, “Oy, if only we had their numbers!”

  • WV Parent

    So – what are the rules/laws/interpretations regarding middle/high school choir songs? Are the religious songs sung considered “historical” in nature and that’s how they get away with it? Or is it because choir is an elective and not a required class they can get away with it?

    Personally I think if it’s the latter reason, I think it’s a ridiculous one. Too many students need the scholarships that come from musical talents and in order to qualify the student must participate in the school band/choir/showchoirs/marching bands for many years to learn their craft.

  • Rich Wilson

    This was around 1983 in Canada, when we still said The Lord’s Prayer every morning as well.

    Was that also in Ont? I graduated in ’84 in BC and the closest we ever got was God Save the Queen at events.

    I did have a creationist biology teacher who skipped evolution, but that was another matter. By ’94 my sister (born again) was complaining that they were teaching ‘just a theory’ as ‘fact’. So I guess things got better :-)

  • Lin

    @ Rich

    Yep, I’m in Ontario.

    Were we behind BC in taking Christianity out of public schools?
    I don’t remember when they took the Lord’s Prayer out, so it must not have been a very big deal around here. I think I’d remember if there’d been a fuss.

  • Rich Wilson

    @Lin
    I don’t recall any Christianity in my BC schooling, starting with grade one in ’72. Although it was spotty up until high school. I only had 2.5 years of elementary school. The rest was pseudo-home-school.

  • Beryl

    WV Parent–

    I try to keep up with school religion cases in a casual kind of way. My best guess is that religious songs in choir, done properly, would be the equivalent of permissible “teaching ABOUT religion.” However, if the songs are treated as devotional or get disproportionate emphasis, it would become a problem. Since this is a matter of emphasis and degree, this is going to be hard to challenge.

  • Guest

    Thank you Friendly Atheist….God Bless You.


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