The Aftermath of a School Prayer Case and a Judge’s Awesome Statement

Last year, Christa and Danny Schultz sued the Medina Valley Independent School District in Castroville, Texas because they knew their son’s high school graduation ceremony would include a prayer.

U.S. District Judge Fred Biery agreed with them, saying that the graduation prayers would “violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment.”

Unfortunately, the district appealed and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals took their side. They said since it was a student-led prayer and not a school-sponsored prayer, it was ok. Corwyn Schultz ended up missing his own graduation ceremony.

Anyway, that was last year. Why bring it up now?

Two reasons.

First, Newt Gingrich has specifically called out Judge Biery in several stump speeches, calling for him to be fired because of his ruling against the school district:

“If you read his ruling, it is so outrageously dictatorial and anti-religious that he [Biery] clearly does not understand America,” Gingrich said. “We don’t need judges who don’t understand America…We need to reset the judiciary, explain to them the limits of the American Constitution and prove to them that judges appointed for life cannot be dictators and they cannot threaten our children with jail for saying the word ‘prayer.’”

Second, Americans United decided to file an “amended complaint” back in October. Basically, in the months since filing the original lawsuit, they found lots of evidence that points to the school having a hand in promoting Christianity.

Our motion — which includes photographs taken from inside the school and videoclips from its graduations and football games — details how both sets of events have consistently featured Christian prayers and how the school district has tightly controlled these events’ programming and contents.

Instead of going to trial again, the two sides have settled out of court.

Judge Biery wrote the opinion (PDF) to settle the case once and for all. It’s three pages and you should all read it.

Even better is the short personal statement made by Biery at the end of the opinion:

During the course of this litigation, many have played a part:

To the United States Marshal Service and local police who have provided heightened security: Thank you.

To those Christians who have venomously and vomitously cursed the Court family and threatened bodily harm and assassination: In His name, I forgive you.

To those who have prayed for my death: Your prayers will someday be answered, as inevitably trumps probability.

To those in executive and legislative branches of government who have demagogued this case for their own political goals: You should be ashamed of yourselves.

To the lawyers who have advocated professionally and respectfully for their clients respective positions: Bless you.”

Brilliant.

(Thanks to Tom for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Anonymous

    Great stuff :)  I hope this gets some press coverage. And I loved “To those who have prayed for my death: Your prayers will someday be answered, as inevitably trumps probability.” :)

  • David McNerney

    “…
    the limits of the American Constitution”

    “…will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”

    Mutually exclusive?

    • Anonymous

      Not to the GOP, cognitive dissonance is their bread and butter.

      • Anonymous

        Or these days more like their ball and chain.

  • Anonymous

    That guy is awesome

    And footnote 1 quotes Matthew 6:5-8

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_EAIHLUU3JSTIB3D2OWHGYN5PHA Ingen

    I knew that Jesus spoke against public prayer, but never that Mohammed approved of it (I assumed Muslims were as opposed to their prophet as most Christians are to theirs).

    Interesting fact to use next time I’m debating someone about public prayer.

  • Volunteer

    Judicial Burn.

    I presume his reference to muslims comes from somewhere in Quran about returning to Mecca.

  • chicago dyke, evolved outlaw

    the only thing he left out for the xtians, “Bless your heart.” in that way that southron folks really mean “Fuck you.” heh. 

  • Rwlawoffice

    I practice before Judge Biery and he is known for these type of opinions.  Very bright guy, even if I don’t always agree with him.  This case though is a classic case of a waste of time and money.  The prayers will still happen because they are student led and the teachers just need to not participate. 
    As for Matthew 6, judge Biery’s use of this passage is typical of those that want to shut Christians up.  The passage is not teaching that you cannot pray in public or communally. It is in a passage that is talking about all forms of worship being sincere and not hypocritical.  

    • Piet Puk

      “As for Matthew 6, judge Biery’s use of this passage is typical of those that want to shut Christians up. ”
      Those poor persecuted christians..
      “The passage is not teaching that you cannot pray in public or
      communally. It is in a passage that is talking about all forms of
      worship being sincere and not hypocritical.”
      Nobody really cares what you think this passage teaches.

    • Anonymous

      I agree: a classic waste of money by a school district – could have been used to teach kids.  They should have realized what they were doing was unconstitutional, but as the Board of Ed is elected – they bow to xtian pressure that the district needs to endorse their specific brand of IBFF (Imaginary Best Friends Forever).

    • TiltedHorizon

      “As for Matthew 6, judge Biery’s use of this passage is typical of those
      that want to shut Christians up.  The passage is not teaching that you
      cannot pray in public or communally. It is in a passage that is talking
      about all forms of worship being sincere and not hypocritical. ”

      Another interpretation, one of many, hence an opinion, lets just throw that on the pile with all the others. Here is mine: (which can also be thrown on the pile)

      Matthew 6:6 (KJV)

      But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast
      shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father
      which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

      Note all the preparatory directions, Enter thy closet (be alone & sincere), shut the door (keep private hence sincere), pray in secret (talk to god using your inside voice; sincere).

      Opening a non-religious ceremony with a prayer means the prayer was scheduled, expected, rehearsed, mechanical, arbitrary, formal and heartless as a result. Where is the ‘sincerity’ here?

      • Rwlawoffice

        Private doe not equate with sincere just as public does not equate with insincere .  The vows taken at a wedding are planned, expected, and rehearsed does that make them insincere?  And just because something is public doesn’t make it heartless. On the contrary, these students making a public profession of their faith takes a lot of courage and one could argue is a sign of their sincerity.

        • TiltedHorizon

          “Private doe not equate with sincere… ”

          So when you pray in private are you lying?

          “The vows taken at a wedding are planned, expected, and rehearsed does that make them insincere?”

          Changing venue again? What does a graduation have to do with a wedding? In the hypothetical wedding do the attendees say the vows with you or do they say their own personal vows in their head as the groom or bride say theirs?

          “these students making a public profession of their faith takes a lot of courage”

          So it take courage to profess your faith to people who already agree with you? If you recall, in terms of population, Christians make up the majority.

          • SJH

             I think you are misunderstanding Rwlawoffice. private/public has no bearing on sincerity. A person might be sincere or insincere at a public or private event. The challenge is to always be sincere at both public and private events.

            I think the wedding comment is an analogy. You can often draw similar conclusions from similar events. Further, the reference is a reflection on public versus private sincerity not the sincerity of collective prayer.

            • TiltedHorizon

              There is no misunderstanding, in comparing private prayer being done on queue vs private prayer done for no reason beyond the desire to do so, private wins in the sincerity department.

              As for the wedding vow analogy, it is a poor one as the dynamics are different. The intention of a vow is to declare one’s commitment to another, thereby reaffirming one’s certainly in choosing their equal and partner, for all to see, it is by design a public display which HAS to be planned and rehearsed.

              In contrast, the time is now 9AM, let us pray.

              • Rwlawoffice

                Titled, I took your argument to mean that if a prayer is done in public it is automatically not sincere.  That is not a correct correlation. The location of the prayer has nothing to do with its sincerity. I used the analogy of the wedding to show that a profession of faith even in public can be sincere.

                I agree that Christians are in the majority, particularly in the part of the country where this case arose, however, that doesn’t mean that it still takes courage to publicly profess your faith, particularly if you are a teenager.

                • TiltedHorizon

                  I was not trying to imply that public prayer is automatically insincere. Only that a public setting provides a stage where sincerity can be faked, especially in cases where the timing of the prayer is dictated as per a schedule and the venue is unrelated to worship.

        • Michael

          Alternatively, the fact that non-christian students are being encouraged to lie about what they believe could be seen as making this supposed-profession take less courage because you can always wriggle out of it later on by admitting you only joined in because of peer pressure.

          • SJH

             Are they being forced to recite a prayer? I would imagine that a prayer is being recited and it is up to the students to participate. Your presence at a prayer does not imply that you believe.

            • Michael

              I think we are both disagreeing with rlaw’s statement that these students are making a public profession of their faith which takes a lot of courage and one could argue is a sign of their sincerity.

              I am disagreeing with it from the sincerity angle while you seem to be arguing against its entire existence. Either way we seem to be in agreement.

            • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

              You don’t have to be forced to be pretty damned uncomfortable with everyone else around you saying something you really don’t believe.  
              http://www.wnd.com/2005/10/32839/ is a great example.

              • SJH

                 So the discomfort of a few people is all it takes to control the actions of many. It seems rather selfish that a very few (often times a single person) should demand that everyone else modify their traditions because they are uncomfortable. In the same way, if I were visiting a place that was primarily Muslim it would be wrong to require that they refrain from their traditions because I feel uncomfortable even if it were a public institution.

                Sorry, I did not read your article, (it is to long) so I cannot comment on the article itself.

                • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

                  The article is not all that long.  You should give it a read.  It’s the reaction of an Evangelical Christian faced with a Buddhist prayer before a HS football game in a primarily Buddhist area in Hawaii.

                  Some things will always be uncomfortable to some people.  We don’t have the right to not be offended.  However, a government entity shouldn’t be in the business of excluding some of the people it’s intended to serve.  The school is for all the students entitled to attend.  So why exclude some of them?  Why not have practices that include everyone?

                  What would it feel like to not have a prayer?  Would no prayer offend the Christians?  And why?  If it’s offensive to NOT have a prayer at graduation, then why is it NOT offensive to have a prayer to start class?  And before lunch?

        • Kllmekid

          i think that bible thumpers should go to hell, god doesnt need advertisment, espeically at school. fuck them bible thumping, arrigant, selfish teachers for trying to force religion on kids……..i think that there where other more practical gods around before your “god” decided to pop up out of no where. religion is human kinds way of justifing our exestance in this world. our brains will never be able to comprehend how big the universe is and so we make up “gods” to make sence of the unknown and all you need is “faith”………adolf hitler based his power off of faith, the people had faith in him to take them to the promise land and creat a perfect race…….isnt it kinda wierd how hitler and religion sound alot alike hmmmmmmm hmmmmmmm now if you would just pull gods dick out of your ear maybie you would listin instead of preaching….

        • Anonymous

           Fine…pray insincerely in private.  No one cares whether your prayers are actually sincere or not since it’s a pointless and worthless waste of time.  However, we’d all just like you to obey that passage in your silly holy book and keep your prayers and the act of praying PRIVATE!

    • Anonymous

      When we get out the lions, then you can complain. Until then you can shut the fuck up.

      Public prayer is the very definition of hypocrisy and insincerity. It’s nothing but “Look! Look! Look at me! See what a good little Christian I am”. Just ridiculous, disgusting self-adulation

      • SJH

         Are you judging me? It seems that you have made the judgement about my moral standing. Are you implying that you are better than me? Apparently you know that I am insincere and, by your choice of words, you imply that you somehow are more sincere than I am and therefor you are more deserving of respect than I.
        Or maybe, I am sincere and I do my best to abandon my tendency towards pride but sometimes fail since I am not perfect. It would probably be best if we all realize that we are all in the same boat and just trying to do what is right and sometimes we all fail and sometimes we succeed. Lets stop judging each other and start encouraging each other.

      • SJH

        Also, regarding your first line; Apparently, a group is not persecuted until genocide occurs. So until atheists are hunted down and burned at the stake they should not complain about a few prayers here and there.

        • Atoswald

          SJH, are you suggesting that atheists should “sit down and shut up” until some of us come to bodily harm? In other words Christians be free to profess and spread their beliefs whilst atheists bottleneck in the vomitorium of society.

          • SJH

            I was being sarcastic based upon Stev84′s comment.

    • Donalbain

       Yeah.. its not like you can take what Jesus said LITERALLY! That is just for Genesis!

      • Anonymous

        Technically it’s for everything he agrees with. All other verses must be read in context

        • Rwlawoffice

          Actually Stev84, even under the assumption that it won’t make a difference to you, I interpret scripture using the literal, grammatical and historical method. I don’t presuppose my idea of what it should say that then interpret it accordingly. 

      • SJH

         To read a passage literally you must read it in the context of history and literary genre. The judge is not doing so. He is picking a passage out of context and using it for his purpose.

        Most Christians do not believe that the book of Genesis is meant to be taken literally so you should not imply that they do.

        • Piet Puk

          “He is picking a passage out of context and using it for his purpose.”
          You have just discribed every christian ever.
          The only people taking any bible in the correct context are the one that understand the bible is just a collection of very old myths and nothing more than that.

          • SJH

             You seem to be generalizing. Some do seem to take things out of context and that is why there are some disputes between Christians regarding the meaning of many issues. Does this make it ok for the judge to act in the same uneducated manner. It seems that he should act as a professional and use his legal mind to make better arguments.

            • TiltedHorizon

               “Does this make it ok for the judge to act in the same uneducated manner.”

              Here is the problem, there is no such thing as  ‘out of context’, only differing groups of splintered consensus.  If a person believes that prayer should be held privately then their interpretation of scripture will reflect it. If someone else believes it means to simply be sincere then that is what it means.

              In labeling the judge ‘uneducated’, solely because you don’t agree with his interpretation,  you are asserting absolute knowledge on a subject even scholars can’t agree on. What does that say of your credibility? 

            • Piet Puk

              I am not generralizing. Like I said earlier; The only people taking any bible in the correct context are the one that
              understand the bible is just a collection of very old myths and nothing
              more than that.
              Also your remark about “..some disputes between Christians..” is a very, very understated.

        • Kllmekidd

          chistians shouldnt imply religion in schools

    • Wichart

      Right.  The passage (and those around it) are talking about being sincere.  They are saying that the people who make a big show of prayer or charity are probably not being sincere.  Those people are doing it publicly so that other people will think they are being charitable or pious, which is not a sincere way to give or to pray.  I interpret Matthew 6:5-8 as saying something along the lines of “God already knows what’s in your heart.  He doesn’t need or want you to make a spectacle of yourself, drawing people’s attention away from God and toward you.  Doing that is inherently selfish, and therefore, insincere and hypocritical.”  
      I think the people who want to pray at school events think that they are being sincere, but it’s plainly obvious to me that the vast majority of Christians do not understand their own faith.  Think about how often we see things in our society that are totally incongruous with what’s in the Bible… athletes and performers thanking God for their success; people getting upset when someone says “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”; people trying to push religion into government (apparently not familiar with Romans 13 or Mark 12:17/Matthew22:21).  Even worse, people credit God for “miracles” that are obviously not, like someone surviving a terrible car accident.  A true miracle would be something like the two cars passing right through each other without any damage, not a handful of people receiving expert treatment at a hospital.  These things make me wonder if Christians understand Christianity at all, and after talking to them, I find that most don’t.

  • Anonymous

    I loved this – going to save the PDFs.  I suggest reading Appendix II.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jukkalattu Jukka Lattu

    Nice to see a judge mention the “right to pray” bit, since it’s pretty much physically impossible to stop anyone from praying at any time, unless you drug them into a coma. Forcing a whole class to participate in sectarian worship is a whole different subject altogether.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cburschka Christoph Burschka

    To those Christians who have venomously and vomitously cursed the
    Court family and threatened bodily harm and assassination: In His name,
    I forgive you.
    To those who have prayed for my death: Your prayers will someday be answered, as inevitably trumps probability.
    To
    those in executive and legislative branches of government who have
    demagogued this case for their own political goals: You should be
    ashamed of yourselves.

    This is one awesome judge.

  • SJH

    So here we are again discussing religion and schools. And, again, I am here to say this is why the government should not be educating our children. We have school disciplinary problems, irresponsibility, uneducated children, higher tax rates, irresponsible use of public funds, homogenized minds and a wider income gap. Just what an authoritarian, fascist or socialist society is looking for. Thank you public schools. You have taken traditional morality out and replaced it with some warped sense of morality defined by the current administration.

    • Kllmekidd

      i think that bible thumpers should go to hell, god doesnt need advertisment, espeically at school. fuck them bible thumping, arrigant, selfish teachers for trying to force religion on kids……..i think that there where other more practical gods around before your “god” decided to pop up out of no where. religion is human kinds way of justifing our exestance in this world. our brains will never be able to comprehend how big the universe is and so we make up “gods” to make sence of the unknown and all you need is “faith”………adolf hitler based his power off of faith, the people had faith in him to take them to the promise land and creat a perfect race…….isnt it kinda wierd how hitler and religion sound alot alike hmmmmmmm hmmmmmmm now if you would just pull gods dick out of your ear maybie you would listin instead of preaching….

      • Tadstn69

        Umm, your paragraph “almost” shows everyone how ignorant you are. But not quite…. The God you say just “popped up” has been worship, believed in, and documented, further back than any religion or belief group in history. And The Bible, although doubted by some, has not and can not be disproved by scientists. “Bible Thumpers” are the reason your illiterate ass has a country to live in, and a computer to express your “feelings”. So think twice before insulting and babbling like a baboon.

        Sincerely,
        A Bible Thumper!

        • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

           Then why are there far older religions than yours?

        • Atoswald

          “Umm, your paragraph “almost” shows everyone how ignorant you are. But not quite…. The God you say just “popped up” has been worship, believed in, and documented, further back than any religion or belief group in history. ”

          Talk about the pot calling the kettle black as your statements show everyone how uneducated you are. There are numerous religions that have been documented and followed MUCH longer than Christianity. In fact, Christianity is a baby compared to Hinduism and Buddhism, and some forms of Paganism (worshipping the Mother Earth goddess) have existed since the Paleolithic Era.

          As for disproving the bible, it is a simple task to cast doubt on the Christian Bible as it is fraught with inconsistencies and fallacies. If you feel it necessary that we as non-believers “disprove” the bible, perhaps you should consider the task of disproving the Islamic Qur’an. 

        • http://profiles.google.com/conticreative Marco Conti


          And The Bible, although doubted by some, has not and can not be disproved by scientists. ” 

          Are you kidding? Maybe you wanted to say that god cannot be disproved (but neither can be proved). The bible can be disproved starting from Genesis, through the flood up to the new testament.  
          Is there some truth in it? Of course. But the same is true for the Koran and even the Book of Mormon.  Whenever the bible tries to explain natural phenomena it’s wrong more often than its right. And we are talking provably wrong.  

          Grant you, the poster should have used his spell check. I cringe at reading all those misspelled words myself, even though I am guilty of it now and then too, but  calling that “ignorance” is a cheap shot.  
          If I were a christian, I’d be very careful accusing someone of ignorance in an atheist blog. Atheists by and large are far more knowledgeable about your own book than your average “bible thumper”.

        • alex

          [[[ The God you say just "popped up" has been worship, believed in, and
          documented, further back than any religion or belief group in history]]]

          This is so wrong on so many levels. Perhaps what you mean to say is that is that it’s the “oldest” god still worshipped today – which is still wrong. Ahura Mazda is about the same age, and Hinduism has been around even longer. I’m sure there are others too, even without counting neo-animistic religions and resurgences of ancient polytheism.
          I won’t even bother with the rest.

  • Nick Campbell

    i think that bible thumpers should go to hell, god doesnt need advertisment, espeically at school. fuck them bible thumping, arrigant, selfish teachers for trying to force religion on kids……..i think that there where other more practical gods around before your “god” decided to pop up out of no where. religion is human kinds way of justifing our exestance in this world. our brains will never be able to comprehend how big the universe is and so we make up “gods” to make sence of the unknown and all you need is “faith”………adolf hitler based his power off of faith, the people had faith in him to take them to the promise land and creat a perfect race…….isnt it kinda wierd how hitler and religion sound alot alike hmmmmmmm hmmmmmmm now if you would just pull gods dick out of your ear maybie you would listin instead of preaching….

  • adicecream

    Will we ever get past the idea that Christians can force both children and adults to participate in  or at least listen to their prayers in public ceremonies?  Pray all you want, my friends.  Just don’t make it part of public schools or government meetings.  Why is that concept so difficult to understand?

  • Anonymous

    I’ll pray to my God and you don’t have to, but that won’t keep me from praying for your soul. I hope that doesn’t bother you, but if it keeps you up a night, you might want to consider a new viewpoint.

    All the best. Honestly.

    • amyc

      Did you read the ruling? It specifically says that everyone has a right to pray. Nobody has taken that away.

      Also, why would your prayers keep strangers up at night (unless you’re really loud when you pray and it keeps your neighbors up)? That doesn’t make any sense.

  • Korey

    Jesus still waits…


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