After all the graduation prayer chaos of the past few weeks, you would hope everyone learned their lesson: Graduation ceremonies are not a substitute for church. School officials can’t say a prayer. Individuals students may reference god in their speeches, but they shouldn’t be giving sermons or leading everyone in the Lord’s Prayer.
It’s one thing to talk about your own beliefs. It’s another thing to make everyone else join you in praising your deity.
Christa and Danny Schultz had filed a lawsuit against the Medina Valley Independent School District in Castroville, Texas because they knew their son’s graduation ceremony would involve everyone being asked to “join in prayer or [to] bow their heads.”
Initially, U.S. District Judge Fred Biery agreed with them — the school couldn’t allow that.
… Biery instead suggested that students modify their remarks to be “statements of their own beliefs,” allow them to make the sign of the cross, wear a yarmulke or hijab, or kneel to face Mecca.
Biery said the family was likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that public prayer would violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
You can read Biery’s ruling here (PDF).
The district appealed the ruling and — goddammit, Texas — the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with them.
So there will be prayers at graduation today.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry and various conservative groups, which had rallied to the defense of the school, hailed Friday’s ruling by the three-judge panel.
“It should not be illegal for students to say a prayer at a graduation ceremony. Now, the federal court of appeals agrees,” said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who filed a brief in support of the school.
“Students should be able to attend their graduation ceremonies without being pressured to participate in worship,” [Americans United for Separation of Church and State attorney Ayesha] Khan said. “All children should feel welcome at this important event in their lives regardless of their opinions about religion.”
The school’s valedictorian, Angela Hildenbrand, had filed an intervention lawsuit that claimed she was being deprived of her right to pray for her classmates and community during her speech. Upon hearing of the court’s decision, she paused for a few seconds and then said she “took the time to thank God.”
“We’re just so, so thrilled with the court’s ruling,” said Hildenbrand, who was helped by the conservative Liberty Institute, which supported the school district’s appeal. “We could just not be more pleased with how it turned out.”
Of course, all this bullshit would end immediately if a valedictorian just asked the audience to worship Satan along with her… or a Muslim student asked everyone to kneel and pray in the direction of Mecca… but when it’s a Christian student who wants everyone to worship Jesus along with her, it’s perfectly fine.
That’s how the law works in America.
Some people just don’t get the difference between a personal mention of a god and coercing others to pray along with you.
Like the hosts of Fox & Friends:
Media Matters explains some of the problems with the segment:
… the school is in no way prohibiting students from silent prayer. The judge reportedly “ruled that students who are speaking at graduation can still talk about their faith, or cite a belief in God as the reason for their success.” What is prohibited is turning the graduation ceremony into a religious ceremony, like allowing speakers to lead prayers, say “amen” or “God bless you” or “have the audience rise and bow their heads.” In short, the ruling simply reiterates this country’s longstanding, Constitutionally mandated separation of church and state.
Sandhya Bathija at AU also points out why “majority rule” doesn’t work in this particular case and why “just one student’s complaint” should be taken into account:
Sadly, it seems those running Fox News Channel just can’t help themselves. Any time there is a church-state controversy in the news, they like to frame it as a war on Christians in America and reiterate that the majority should rule.
That’s simply not what this is about. It’s about making sure that every student feels welcomed and accepted by his or her school. In order to achieve that, the courts, including the Supreme Court, have declared that public schools can’t choose religion over non-religion or favor any particular faith.
It’s pretty simple, and it’s the only fair and constitutional way for school officials to behave.
It’s easy to say “Majority rules” when you’re in the majority. The Governor, the Attorney General, and these parents who don’t get why atheists are making a big deal about this don’t know what it’s like to be in the minority. They don’t have to constantly fight for the inclusion of their views. They just assume their beliefs must apply to everyone else and anyone who disagrees can either ignore it, cover their ears, or keep silent while the Christian ritual goes on.
They need a taste of their own medicine.
How’s this? To any student speaking at next year’s Medina Valley Independent School District graduation ceremony, if you can ask the audience to “pray to Satan” or “bow your head to Allah,” and you get it on videotape, we’ll raise a shitton of money for you?
I’m tempted to do that.
But I also think it’s all a distraction from what a high school graduation should be — a time to honor the hard work of all the students who have made it that far. It’s not a place to make political or religious speeches. The school officials, the state officials, and any valedictorian worthy of the distinction should know better.