Atheist Valedictorian in Texas Forces High School to Remove Graduation Prayers

Mark Reyes is the valedictorian at Poteet High School in Texas and his graduation ceremony is Friday night.

He’s also an atheist. And thanks to his activism, the school will be getting rid of a nearly-100-year-old tradition of reciting invocations and benedictions at the ceremony:

Poteet Independent School District Superintendent Andy Castillo announced Tuesday that due to legal problems the words “Invocation” and “Benediction” will be removed from the commencement program of their Friday night graduation ceremony. The words “Opening Remarks” and “Closing Remarks” will replace “Invocation” and “Benediction”.

The substitution comes after the school district received a complaint from a person representing Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “After receiving this information last week, we have been working with our attorneys to avoid legal problems,” said Poteet Superintendent Andy Castillo.

Reyes added: “I know it’s tradition, but tradition isn’t always right.”

The Fox affiliate in San Antonio has the (un-embeddable) video interview with Reyes and you can watch that here.

I’m eager to hear how Reyes uses his time on stage.

I’m even more interested to hear how Religion Right groups — who push hard for Christian students to use their time on the graduation stage to proselytize — react to this. Will they support Reyes’ right to speak about atheism on stage (if he so chooses)? Will they denounce him? Will they just ignore the whole issue? (My money’s on the last option.)

Either way, Reyes has already shown courage and wisdom by getting the school to end a tradition that never should have been in place to begin with. What the administration at that school couldn’t do, Reyes has done.

We owe him a (root) beer for that.

(Thanks to Brian for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Onamission5

    Young people like Reyes give me hope for the future.

  • Kevin

    Wait. The school has no right to use graduation time to talk about Christian faith. But this kid DOES have a right to use the time to talk about atheism?

    • http://www.bricewgilbert.blogspot.com Brice Gilbert

      The students themselves have the right to talk about what they want as long as the school or it’s teachers don’t enforce what was said. There does seem to be a disagreement around this idea, but it seems to be legal.

      • Guest

        your statement is getting closer to the truth – but dig deeper.

    • Phillip Grover

      Where do you see a mention of him speaking about atheism at the ceremony?

      • Phillip Grover

        never mind, I see what you are saying.  Speaking about being a Christian would be fine.  But prayers are religious practice, not a discussion of a topic as such.

        • Rwlawoffice

           Student led prayers even at a school function are allowed and are constitutional. So a student could get up at graduation and say a prayer.

          • Vision_From_Afar

            Technically, yes, but it’s very shaky ground. There has to be zero evidence of encouragement by faculty or staff, which can be hard to prove if prayer becomes a yearly occurrence.

            • Rwlawoffice

              The student’s First Amendment right to exercise his or her’s freedom of religion is not on shaky ground. The school administration cannot do anything that would unreasonably prohibit that so a student led prayer at a graduation ceremony or daily on the school grounds cannot be stopped and is not unconstitutional. In fact, it must be accommodated.

              • Vision_From_Afar

                But at the same time, the school cannot say,
                “The student leading the ceremony may begin with thoughts or prayer before speaking.”
                It’s akin to leading a witness. It must be accommodated, provided it is student initiated and not faculty encouraged.

                • Rwlawoffice

                   That is too broad of a statement. The only thing that the administration can’t do is be involved or influence.  It must allow the prayer to take place.

                • Vision_From_Afar

                  :facepalm: What we have here is a failure to communicate.

    • bath exile

      Atheism is not a religion. A teacher talking about atheism does not go against the first amendment because they are not promoting any religion. Many theists think that atheism is a religion but the fact is that atheism is as much a religion as not collecting stamps is a hobby.

      And, as has been stated, a student can pretty much say whatever they want about religion and pray or not pray, as long as a teacher didn’t influence their actions.

      Basically a public school can not promote any religion, but students are free to hold their own religious views and act on them within reason.

  • Max Nielson

    G00d Job Mr. Reyes.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Wait, so they’re changing “Invocation” to “Opening Remarks” and “Benediction” to “Closing Remarks”.  The actual content of each may (and probably will) remain the same.  In fact, I’d expect other speakers to get morereligious this year.

    I bet if the school had just decided to change the program without saying anything about it, nobody would have noticed.

    • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

       “In fact, I’d expect other speakers to get more religious this year.”

      Maybe he could use part of his time for a bible reading. That one about praying in cupboards should hit the spot.

  • CoboWowbo

    Well done young man…

  • BenofSoCal

    Reyes added: “I know it’s tradition, but tradition isn’t always right.”

    Actually, tradition is nothing more than institutionalized ignorance.

    • P. J. Reed

      My wife and I have a tradition of going to a local Indian restaurant for dinner on Thanksgiving day.  Are we being ignorant? :-(

      • Brad

        No sir. The thing is, you do not do because it is tradition. You do it because you enjoy it. You have good reasons to go to the restaurant. Tradition is doing something today simply because someone did it yesterday.

        • P. J. Reed

          You are partially correct — we do it because we enjoy it, but it is still a tradition even if we don’t do it because it’s a tradition.

        • 2 Baza

           Tradition appears to be someone picking what you have to eat and then forcefeeding you the crap.

      • Sindigo

        Depends. Are you sure that the proprietor is Indian and not from Pakistan or something?

        (Just kidding)

        • P. J. Reed

          I can’t verify the authenticity of all of the employees, but I do know that many of them don’t speak English, and that’s authentic enough for me.

          • Sindigo

            “M’sieur, is yer currie ‘ot eneuff?” :)

      • RoboRay

        Turkey curry?

        • P. J. Reed

          They have actually made turkey curry on Thanksgiving day, and it was pretty good, although I am more partial to the goat.

      • Cardiacpa

         Yes, for connecting a dinner day with religious crap you are ignorant.

        • P. J. Reed

          Where did I say anything religious?

      • aNxello

        you are not ignorant, unless you meant Native American when you said Indian

        • http://profiles.google.com/photomstr N. Obody

          native american is a misnomer . . . they did not call themselves americans, we did after we forced our name upon them. and rightly so  because the nomadic tribes on this continent had no concept of property or land ownership. they were gypsies, tramps and thieves (I’m not sayin we were angels).

          • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

            They weren’t all nomadic tribes, and many of them certainly did have a concept of land ownership.  Probably not identical to ours, but they did have their own areas that others didn’t come and set up camp on without an argument.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lies_My_Teacher_Told_Me 

            and

            And the PBS American Experience series “We Shall Remain”

      • http://profiles.google.com/joebbowers Joe Bowers

        Yes. There are likely many other and better restaurants that you’re not even giving a chance. Traditions discourage improvement.

        • P. J. Reed

          You are incorrect.  On other days of the year we enjoy visiting other restaurants in the area and frequently try new ones, and the local Indian place remains one of the best restaurants in the entire city.

        • Juarez

           They also strengthen bonds between family, friends, peers.  I guess that is a bad thing.  Much better to be that special snowflake in the world.

      • troy

        Yeah, that actually sounds pretty ignorant to me

      • longpete

         I can’t believe how much of this page is taken up by people discussing whether going for a curry is a tradition of not. FFS, people, get a life!

  • Joe Zamecki

    Awesome strength in that young man! He rocks. Yes, individual expression is one thing, but an out loud prayer usually covers everyone. Or so that’s what they praying person wants. That goes way beyond expression. 

  • Ryan

    There’s a poll on one of the link of (getting rid of a nearly-100-year-old tradition)

  • Ian Reide

    Groovy, great job. And, take care.

  • artilleryboy

    So what happened, they used to say a prayer at the start and end of the graduation ceremony. Was it just words or was it like the Christians “Our father” at the start and the end. Either way I wouldn’t have a problem with either. I go to a school that has prayers/mass/incorporates both into school events and you just don’t join into the religious aspects  if you don’t want to. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/tuibguy Mike Haubrich

      Just kind of “Go along to get along” even if you know it is wrong.  Gotcha.

      • Derrik Pates

        Because hey, why should the law get in the way of what people believe?

      • artilleryboy

        No, not really what occurs at my schools. 

      • Guest

        He never stated it was wrong. Do you think its wrong? If so why do you think its wrong and based on what?

    • Guest

      I can agree with your stance on this as stated – I personally would pray – I
      always do and I have prayed today for many on this board and at that school
      among other things but I would never force you to do it(take your right not to)
      but I would never give up my right for it as well.

      • artilleryboy

        I’d have to say I really don’t like what’s occurred at this school. I see nothing wrong with them(the school) adding a religious aspect to the graduation ceremony. I’m not a religious person but this just really annoyed me.

  • Donna Swafford

    I want to put something else into perspective about this. Poteet is less than an hour from Castroville, TX. Castroville is the town that last year decided to have the prayer despite complaints and when an “activist judge” issued an injunction (which was successfully appealed) Newt Gingrich went all gnome poop crazy over it. As a member of the Greater San Antonio community and an atheist, this story makes me happy. 

  • Annie

    Congrats to Mark.  Great story, but it will be more hopeful when  school officials respond by saying we removed the prayer because it was the right thing to do… instead of  ‘we want to avoid a lawsuit’.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mlmccurley78 Melissa McCurley

      One thing at a time, Annie!  

      I look forward to that day, as well though.  Even better–the day when religious crap is kept out of all public institutions.

      • Guest

        Well sadly they do keep allot of religious things out of public education or
        institutions but that only pushes allot of ignorance or part truths or total
        untruths. Most of the history of the world even current today you need to know
        about religion to understand it. It should be taught at all schools &
        originally for the most part it was. For instance you may never learn if they
        total removed religion that When Congress was 1st formed – every session was
        opened with not only a prayer but a sermon on the topics they would be
        undertaking in that session – no the preacher did not tell them to make a
        decision this way or that way he only laid out the Bibles directions on the
        topic sort of like Guidelines from Gods word. You may not even know that the 1st
        time America was attacked after we gained our Independence was from an Islamist
        nation based on religion – I wont tell you the story – look it up great time for
        learning.

        • Another Guest

          You persist in babbling about your holy book. Get over it. This isn’t the Dark Ages. It has been a long struggle but we have won the natural right to be rid of organized religions dictating how to live our lives and what to think. By the way, your cut-and-paste propagandizing really screws up the wordwrap of the formatting.

        • bath exile

          Do you mean the war that ended with the signing of the Treaty of Tripoli, America’s first international treaty? Where it says this:

          “Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims],—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Muslim] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

          Read it carefully. THE GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA IS NOT, IN ANY SENSE, FOUNDED ON THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION.

  • Allen Bouchard

    I got a mailer yesterday from Americans United asking me to become a member. They listed their recent successes and I was impressed that only one was a lawsuit, the rest were resolved after a letter.

    • Guest

      too few stand up out of fear and Ignorance – those who do stand up it can be
      costly but if more stood up to protect our rights the other side would feel that
      burden as well and this would change how often and where these battles take
      place. For instance if Someone sent the letter stating the removal of the prayer
      was a violation of their rights – if the cost were to be the same would more
      institutions be forced to defend whats right not just let the dollar
      dictate?

  • http://www.facebook.com/muscleheadbob Robert Germanovich

    as an atheist, kids like this annoy me. why cant they just ohhhh, i dont know ADHERE TO THE FIRST AMENDMENT?!?! it is their right to pray to whatever invisible fairies they choose. i stand for evolution and dont wish to be forced to adopt any religion but it would be wrong to stop others from praying.

    • Onamission5

      Nobody is trying to stop anyone from free expression of religion. They are trying to stop some people from  treating a public school graduation ceremony– which by its very nature is supposed to be inclusive– like it’s a particular brand of church, just because a majority of students happen to belong to that church, and in the process, excluding all students who don’t follow that religion.

      Public, state sponsored ceremonies should not be platforms for showing preferential treatment to one specific set of religious beliefs. 

      • Guest

        Ok this is only on the basis of your statement not more not less -the graduation ceomony is suppose to be inclusive notexclude anyone – OK so If a student was to say a prayer – I dont think the prayer would say God this is only for belivers dont bless the non belivers its inclusive of all – but is it forced inclusion – no there was not a rule that made the non believer pray but to say because this one person or this minority has decide they do not want to do it then no one else can – well that sort of excludes the ones who desire the prayer.  It is sort of like at graduation they voted to make Coke the drink to be sevrved to all guest who desired it – they would not make all guest drink it but to say ok this many do not like Coke so no one may have it we need to remove it – see itsjust for illustration – how offering it makes it inclusive to all who desire a drink without forceing all to drink it – but the total denial or removal of coke would effect both parties the ones who desire it and the ones who do not. -because you do not belive in prayer – I will pray for you as I pray and someday you may decide to pray as you have that right – well at least until someone bans it restricts it or takes it from you. As you have individual rights for now.  

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          There’s a big difference between what soft drink to serve, and what god(s) (if any) to pray to.

          Maybe this experience by an Evangelical Christian will help

          “WHY I’M AGAINST PRE-GAME PRAYERS”
          http://www.wnd.com/2005/10/32839/ 

        • Okelydokely2

          In your analogy, you can either take the Coke or have nothing. Why not choose a neutral drink like water, which doesn’t exclude people (for health reasons rather than religious ones in this example)? But at any rate, nobody is saying that attendees can’t pray – how could that be enforced anyway? .But just as smokers have rights that are curtailed in the interest of providing safer environments for nonsmokers (for which I am thankful), public schools should not sanction any particular religion. The majority can’t just expect to push their agenda on everyone.  There are countries where that attitude prevails, and few of us would want to live in them.

        • Zehan

          No one has said that no one may pray. In actuality it’s really a very small change. Simply two words being removed from a program. Anyone who chooses to is free to pray (or not) whenever they like and with as many people as they like. Anyone speaking at the event is free to include religious comments or prayers in their speech. All that Mark is asking for is that the program not include an (unconstitutional) official prayer. That’s all.

    • Vision_From_Afar

      When the prayer is at a school function, backed by school time, money, and resources, it is a violation of the 1st Amendment. Kudos to him, shame on you.

      • Guest

        here is the 1st admendment – can you tell me what part it violates? The First Amendment
        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
        By praying at a school function – no Congress is not making alaw respecting religion by allowing someone to pray or not to pray if they choose. Now those who want to tell a student or a school no you cant pray – him its states “or prohibit the free excersise of” well to pass a law as such would be prohibiting – so congress did not make that law – you wont find a legal code for it. Backed by school time, money or resources – I do not think the prayer cost anything but lets look further – where dose that school money or resources come from? I am fairly sure most of it is tax payer money – ok once again are any of the taxpayers Christian? Most polls show that of those who pay taxes the Majority are considered Christian by thier own defination of Christian.  please read some of my other post as well I think this is avery educational topic that many are not fully understanding of – its not mostly religion its about money and or power.

        • Vision_From_Afar

          Ccan you tell me what part it violates? 
          Happily! ^-^

          The Constitution is the highest law of the land, yes? All “sub-Governments” (for lack of a better term), such as State, County, City, etc., must follow it’s precepts. I think we agree on that much.
          By leading prayer at a school function, the faculty and school are, in effect, saying, “As a school, we pray to this God.” This becomes especially true during events when attendance is either mandatory (assemblies and the like) or ceremonial (graduation). If a moment of silence is granted, wherein each individual is given an opportunity to reflect and/or pray, then we have no problem. We, the students, parents, attendees, are not being forced to listen to a singular, sectarian appeal to a deity we may or may not believe in/worship.
          The problem lies not in the student’s ability to pray (that has been protected both in law and in Supreme Court case history) in a like-minded group or individually (provided no disruption occurs), but in occurrences when it appears that the school, as a representative of government, adopts not only a single religion, but potentially a single viewpoint (i.e. – Catholic/Baptist/etc.) from said religion, we come to a violation of the 1st Amendment: “establishment”. As an entity “established” via law (the bill to pay for a school), and paid for by government (taxes), the school is an agent of the government, and thus must obey all the rules of that government. Like the Constitution. That is the “establishment of religion.”
          It’s amusing that your argument is: “It’s not a violation, but if it was, it wouldn’t matter because we’re the majority anyhow.”
          You do see the problem inherent in that argument, don’t you? The entire point of the Bill of Rights is to protect the rights of the minority against the pressures of the majority. If every single person in this country wanted me to shut up (a feeling I’m sure Fred Phelps gets often), legally they couldn’t, despite being a majority. Because of the 1st Amendment. Thomas Jefferson said, “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.” (emphasis mine)

          I don’t think I’m the one who needs to study up more on this subject, sir.

    • http://profiles.google.com/photomstr N. Obody

      those ancient superstitions could be the downfall of modern man . . . think again!

      • Guest

        or a few hundred years ago it could be the birth of the greatest nation on earth
        - Oh wait – it was!

        • Vision_From_Afar

          Oh, you’re talking about British Common Law, and Gecro-Roman Republic governance, and the totally new, radical idea of the Rights of the Individual, right? That’s what created our nation, after all.

    • Derrik Pates

      They can pray privately. You know, like the Christian bible says in Matthew 6:5-6. The students can pray, and so can the staff – the staff just can’t lead the students in prayer. It’s the law.

      • Guest

        I see you state its the law – can you tell me what that law is? as in the legal code? Oh there are lots of cases and lots of money spent and many who back down for lack of money to defend or even ignorance as to their rightd. – could you please tell me under what legal code? thanks

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          If you’re really interested, do some research on au.org.

          For example http://au.org/our-work/legal/lawsuits/schultz-v-medina-valley-independent-school-district

          School-district officials will not initiate, solicit, or direct prayers; join students in prayers; prosleytize; or invite others to engage in these practices.
          School-district officials will not display crosses, religious images, religious quotations, Bibles or religious texts, or other religious icons on the walls, hallways, and other areas at school.
          The school district will not invite speakers, including government officials or community leaders, whom it has reason to believe will proselytize or promote religious during their remarks.
          The school-district will refraing[sic] from designating student speeches as Invocation, Benediction, or other religious terms; will cease reviewing and revising student graduation speeches in advance; and will no longer pass prior years’ speeches (which often contained prayers) to the current year’s speakers.

          I left out ‘training’ but nothing there prohibiting student prayer.
          and
          http://au.org/issues/school-prayer 

          Public school students have the right to pray voluntarily in a non-disruptive fashion during the school day and read religious texts during free time. A short rule of thumb: Individual, voluntary religious activity by students is permitted; school-sponsored religious worship is not.

          There isn’t a law to cite, other than the free expression clause of the first amendment.  There isn’t much direct case law, because nobody has objected to private prayer in school.There have been a few cases where the prayer was disallowed by the school because it was disruptive, but I don’t know of any that went to court.  (Disruptive = Muslims wanting to pray in the middle of class, or Christians wanting to Tebow in the middle of the hallway)

          • Okelydokely2

             Thank you for posting this reply. I used to teach at a charter school, and when I was going through a training seminar with other new hires, we were told of these regulations, and many teachers were resentful that they could not display their crosses and bibles. Follow-up questions ensued, at which point the trainer told us that it didn’t mean a teach couldn’t wear a crucifix if it was reasonably small (i.e., not “in your face”), but I could hear some of my colleagues already trying to figure out where there might be loopholes to exploit. I taught in 2001, and the day after the 9/11 attacks, I asked my students (8th graders) to write their questions and concerns about what happened, and one student wrote a poem that the class and I felt summed up what we were feeling. I offered to make copies for everyone, and left my room to retrieve the copies from the printer down the hall. When I got back, everyone was sitting in a circle holding hands and praying. I’m an agnostic, but I understood that this was something they needed, so I didn’t interrupt and gave them the minute or two they needed to come together spiritually. I didn’t mention it to anyone, but someone must have, because a few days later, a teacher came up to me and congratulated me for what she apparently thought I’d instigated. If it weren’t for the regulations you mention above, I can only wonder what public schools would be like for non-Christians.

            • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

              I’ve been in the situation where all the other kids decide we MUST pray.  It’s exceedingly difficult to be the outsider both before and after one grows the courage to leave the herd.

    • Guest

      well I do not agree to the staement entirely but I agree to your logic it is their right or yours not to – I thnk this staement is accurate for the most part.

  • Juarez

    I’m glad that this 15 year old has figured everything out.  I remember thinking the same thing when I was a teenager.

    • Katherinemch

      He just wants separation of church and state, and he’s used his moment in the spotlight to draw attention to the issue. There’s no immaturity or cockiness. He takes one little step in the direction of fighting for freedom & equality, and you suggest he thinks he’s infallible… that is some wacky reasoning you used there. He could be the most humble, openminded guy on Earth for all you know!

      • Guest

        You state he “wants separation of church and state” can you tell me what you
        think that means? Can you tell me what it is based on? The founding fathers
        wanted to keep the government out of Church IE as in most European countries
        they had just come from where the Government may set an official religion and
        that’s what you were suppose to follow. But they did not want to Keep religious
        belief, wisdom or traits out of government. In fact as they made up our founding
        documents and discussed our countries founding ideas – they always opened in
        prayer and often took a break to pray again when they hit hard spots. Many of
        them were pastors or prominent in institutions of Faith. For instance do you
        know what George Washington did as he was on one side of the river and the
        largest naval fleet in the world and army at that time was on the other side to
        stomp out our Independence – he prayed not only did he pray and openly looking
        up but he made a covenant with God and begged all those who could hear him to
        make the same covenant with God – that we would be one nation under God – not
        the type of stuff they teach in public schools as they fear complaints about
        religion but look it up we still have documents and writings from that time that
        show our true history not the way it has been half truths or lied about in
        public schools by those with an agenda.

        • Vision_From_Afar

          You state he “wants separation of church and state” can you tell me what you think that means? Can you tell me what it is based on?
          Yep. It’s based on two things: 1) Roger Williams, the Founder of Rhode Island, warned in his 1644 treatise, The Bloudy Tenet of Persecution, for Cause of Conscience,against opening “a gap in the hedge, or wall of separation, between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world”. 2) Keep in mind, that was 150 years before Thomas Jefferson used almost the exact same phrase, saying:
          “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State.”
          -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Danbury Baptist Association, CT., Jan. 1, 1802

          The founding fathers wanted to keep the government out of Church IE as in most European countries they had just come from where the Government may set an official religion and that’s what you were suppose to follow. But they did not want to Keep religious belief, wisdom or traits out of government.

          “We are teaching the world the great truth that Govts. do better without Kings & Nobles than with them. The meritwill be doubled by the other lesson that Religion flourishes in greater purity, without than with the aid of Govt.”- James Madison’s Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822 

          Looks like President Madison felt the separation went both ways. 

          John Leland, a close friend of both Madison and Jefferson  as well as an influential pastor in New England during the founding years, once said, “The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever…The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

          In fact as they made up our founding documents and discussed our countries founding ideas – they always opened in prayer and often took a break to pray again when they hit hard spots.

          I have no doubt the Christians among them prayed during breaks, but I don’t think you can paint every one of the Founding Fathers with such a broad brush.

          Many of them were pastors or prominent in institutions of Faith. For instance do you know what George Washington did as he was on one side of the river and the largest naval fleet in the world and army at that time was on the other side to stomp out our Independence – he prayed not only did he pray and openly looking up but he made a covenant with God and begged all those who could hear him to make the same covenant with God – that we would be one nation under God – not the type of stuff they teach in public schools as they fear complaints about religion but look it up we still have documents and writings from that time that show our true history not the way it has been half truths or lied about in public schools by those with an agenda.

          I did look up that prayer, and after the 3rd page of Google, I found this, with zero supporting documentation, so for all I know it’s made up but here we go:
          “Almighty God; We make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy holy protection; that Thou wilt incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; and entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow citizens of the United States at large. And finally that Thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without a humble imitation of whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation Grant our supplication, we beseech Thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

          I see no covenant, only asking for help. I see no “one nation, under God”, only “we want our own country where we can be nice to each other, please help.” A Covenant is an agreement. A “you give me this, I give you that.” I see no promises in return for favors here. What am I missing?Also, just because Washington was a Christian (and that’s debatable under today’s “rigorous standards”, he may have been some middle ground between Deist and Christian), doesn’t mean one thing about our government or it’s right to dictate our religious beliefs. Even Jefferson knew this:
          ““[E]very one must act according to the dictates of his own reason, and mine tells me that
          civil powers alone have been given to the President of the U.S. and no authority to direct
          the religious exercises of his constituents.”
           – Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to Rev. Samuel Miller, January 23, 1808
          There be my sources. Where be yours?

          • Rwlawoffice

             There were over a hundred founding fathers who combined signed the declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. To a man they were Christian of various denominations.  None of them were atheists, nor were they humanists. They were very religious men who took their faith seriously and deeply. Jefferson and Franklin have been described as diests, which maybe be true, however, the God that they believed in was the Christian God without a doubt.

            They also recognized that the best way to protect religion was to keep government out of it so it could be freely exercised.  The First Amendment was to protect religion from government not the other way around.  The attempt by current secularists to rewrite this history is just that, an attempt to change history. 

            Of all of the founding fathers, George Washington was probably one of the most religious.  Here is one of his quotes: The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary but
            especially so in times of public distress and danger. The General hopes
            and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor to live and act as
            becomes a Christian soldier, defending the dearest rights and liberties
            of his country. From the writings of George Washington.

            John Adams said: The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were
            the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then
            believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity
            are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.  Letter from Adams to Jefferson. June 28, 1813

            If you want a list of quotes from a vast majority of these founding fathers look here:

            http://www.wallbuilders.com/libissuesarticles.asp?id=8755#FN124

            • Vision_From_Afar

              There were over a hundred founding fathers who combined signed the declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution.

              Only one of those counts, legally speaking.

              To a man they were Christian of various denominations.  None of them were atheists, nor were they humanists. They were very religious men who took their faith seriously and deeply. Jefferson and Franklin have been described as diests, which maybe be true, however, the God that they believed in was the Christian God without a doubt.

              Considering Jefferson made his own “Bible”, removing every single instance of Jesus’ divinity, I’d say you’re on shaky ground placing a “Christian” mantle on him. As for Ben Franklin, I’ll let him explain it, ” It happened that they wrought an effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them; for the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist.”
              -Benjamin Franklin: Autobiography, Poor Richard, and Later Writings

              Nice try, though. Kinda makes me doubt the rest of your argument about who was and wasn’t a Deist…

              They also recognized that the best way to protect religion was to keep government out of it so it could be freely exercised.  The First Amendment was to protect religion from government not the other way around.  The attempt by current secularists to rewrite this history is just that, an attempt to change history.

              You’re half right. The latest Christian attempt to rewrite this history is just that, an attempt to change history to give credence to their “Christian Nation” malarkey.

              Of all of the founding fathers, George Washington was probably one of the most religious.  Here is one of his quotes: The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary but especially so in times of public distress and danger. The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor to live and act as becomes a Christian soldier, defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country. From the writings of George Washington.

              You’re aware Washington was facing dissension in the ranks, talk of mutiny, and was trying not to let his soldiers become a plague of locusts on the local populace as the British soldiers were wont to do? Extolling the virtues of behaving like “a Christian solider” is just a nice way of saying, “Behave, solider!” 

              If I want a laugh, I’ll visit Wallbuilders (Are they aware of the irony of their name, given their desperate, all-consuming need to tear down the “wall of separation”?). David Barton has been thoroughly debunked so many times that if he got paid for it like the fiction it is, he’d actually have more money. As it stands, I’ll keep my history factual, thanks.

            • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

              The personal religious beliefs of each individual is irrelevant.  What is relevant is what they chose to create.  There are many Christians today who are strong supporters of an absolute separation of Church and State.  One does not have to be an atheist to want religion to stay out of government.

              The First Amendment was to protect religion from government not the other way around.

              I know David Barton would like us all to believe that, but it is simply not substantiated by fact.  Your wallbuilders.com list is seriously cherry picked.  For an alternate bias, here are a few more quotes from Madison http://atheism.about.com/library/quotes/bl_q_JMadison.htm

              Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us. If this freedom be abused, it is an offense against God, not against man:To God, therefore, not to man, must an account of it be rendered.

              – James Madison

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/VW6S65QCYDUACIBWTJ5LA63O64 NoHayBanda

      Also, he’s probably 17 or 18 if he’s graduating high school.

      • Ai_Naru

        Oh there are definitely 15/16 year olds graduating. My Salutatorian was.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1320345003 Sallie Des Biens

    Way to go! Living in TX, that is an incredible feat! Congratulations. Wishing you a bright future.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=568761063 Glory Mooncalled

    Shocked that the school isn’t going to waste taxpayer’s money to fight this.  Flabbergasted that the other students and their parents haven’t strung this kid up yet or threatened his family. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Janee-Taylor/100002786114428 Jane’e Taylor

       Especially being right in the heart of the bible belt.  I expected to read more about hate or threats or attacks, not just his success in removing the prayers.

      • Guest

        Unfortunately you may find those who call themselves Christian say hateful
        things or threats – but that’s only those who have not learned to read and
        understand their Bible and what the meaning of Christian is. I will not say
        anything hateful or threats but I will pray for you as well as for this young
        man. I will not force either to do it but I will never give up my right to it.
        His success was not based on doing the right thing but on money and power. That
        is even why the school states they changed it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=691473442 Jehn Crumbley

    This is a great step in the right direction! I hope other Atheist youth take his lead and step forward to keeping the religion out of schools and just in the Church.  I hope the so called Christians can respect his opinion and keep their mouths shut for a change and let this bright young man have his moment.  Well done..you give me hope for our younger generation!

    • Guest

      .wow keep their mouths shut – unfortunately they have done this all too often
      in the public square I only hope in the private square they at least opened
      their mouths to Pray. And unfortunately they have kept allot out of public
      schools based on ignorance and fear but in so doing have cheated many out of a
      truthful education. I do not think a public school should teach someone to be a
      Christian, a Buddhist, a follower of Islam or anything of that nature – that is
      for the Church’s or places of worship to do. But they should definitely teach
      them about religion – every major thing and many minor events in the history of
      mankind are intertwined by religion – its hard too see or understand the truth
      if you remove thus truth. Even our nations founding fathers sought wisdom from
      God to help them in making decisions – when our founding documents were being
      put together – when they hit a block so to speak – do you know what the founding
      fathers did – they took a break do you know what they did on that break? look it
      up its very retaliative to this conversation. And may not be taught in many
      public schools so most may not know

      • Another Guest

        So you were there?

      • bath exile

        I agree that different religions should be taught, it is important to understand how different people think. The problem comes when a school picks a single religion and promotes it. That goes completely against the constitution.

        And remember god is mentioned exactly zero times in the constitution. Religion is mentioned twice, in article 6 “no religious Test shall ever be
        required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United
        States” and the first amendment “Amendment 1
        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.”

        It seems pretty clear that the USA was founded as a secular country where no religion should be given precedence over any other belief system.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1308430408 Jesse Nicholson

        If you want god, go study at a church or private school, you’ll get all the god you need there

      • Vision_From_Afar

        The Founding Fathers were Deists (Jefferson, Madison), and it’s completely unknown to what extent Washington was religious, since he would exit any Church before Communion would be served…
        Might want to double-check some facts there.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/VW6S65QCYDUACIBWTJ5LA63O64 NoHayBanda

    I live in San Antonio.  What disturbs me most about the report is the need for “extra security” for the student.  Whenever anything like this happens, but esp. in the South, there is harassment and even death threats.  It sickens me.  Reyes is diplomatic in his comments, has no problem with the free speech of the other students, yet his call to enforce the law is met with derision.

    • Kate Donovan

      If you live in San Antonio (as I do!), you should know that Holmes HS in Northside has shut down an SSA that tried to start

  • http://www.facebook.com/backrubs62 James Weisinger

    i think the entire class of 150 students should decide what they want in their graduation ceremony and if someone does not like what the majority of his/her fellow classmates want or dont want,. they can to ask their diploma be  given to them in a private ceremony.  Why ruin the day for the other graduates based on what one person wants or doesnt want.

    • Derrik Pates

      Because it’s explicitly counter to the First Amendment (due in part to the Fourteenth Amendment)? We don’t vote on rights.

      • Vision_From_Afar

        “We don’t vote on rights.” – I am so stealing that.

        • Rwlawoffice

           But we do vote on rights.  These amendments were passed by a vote of the people.  If you are saying that there are certain rights that override the vote of the people, then you are saying that there is a an objective morality and value of human rights that comes from beyond people and their individual desires. That source is God, just as our founding fathers wrote in the Declaration of Independence.   

          • Vision_From_Afar

            Hahahaha – oh, you’re serious?

            I’m saying the US Constitution trumps ANY popular vote NOT on an amendment to the US Constitution. The recent bull-hockey about Sharia law in Oklahoma. Sure, the majority voted on it, but it’s Un-fraking-Constitutional! End of Story, do not collect $200.

            Also, the Declaration of Independence, in legal matters, is a strongly worded letter to a long-dead king. It’s historically significant, but that’s about it. One word in a zero-standing document does not your argument make.

            • Rwlawoffice

              I quoted the declaration not as the legal source of those rights, but as evidence of where the founding fathers believed our rights originated from, and that was the almighty. These were the same rights that they instilled in the constitution. Particularly through the Bill of Rights.  It formed the cornerstone of the beliefs upon which our country was founded.

              • Vision_From_Afar

                And yet, Jefferson’s first couple drafts made no mention of a deity at all…Almost like it wasn’t important enough to mention…

                Jefferson’s ORIGINAL version of the Declaration of Independence read instead: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal and independent; that from that equal creation they derive in rights inherent and unalienables, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty and the pursuit of happiness; . . .” An entirely different statement, methinks.

                http://www.constitution.org/tj/tj-orddoi.htm
                The Declaration of Independence, The Evolution of the Text, By Julian P. Boyd, Edited by Gerald W. Gawalt. Revised Edition, The Library of Congress in association with the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, Inc., University Press of New England (1999) p. 60

  • Kate Donovan

    I lived very close to Poteet for most of my life–this is unbelievable. So glad it happened!

  • Cheeks002

    Religion is a curse on humanity, without it human beings can band together and form a worldwide nation that helps each other! Reyes is totally correct in banning religious statements in school. That just helps to brainwash our youth into believing in “glorified fairytales.

  • http://profiles.google.com/photomstr N. Obody

    perhaps because it is unconstitutional? there is no place for religion in education or government!

    • Guest

      what do you base this on? what is unconstitutional? please explain your view better.

  • Pchlp

     Hi
    I am from the Americans United for the Non-Use of Toilets. We are here
    to end the tradition of using a toilet. Now that I have taken the United
    State to court and won I can now go where and when I want like the
    other “animals”. Watch where you step!

    • Vision_From_Afar

      Obvious troll is obvious.

  • Woody

    or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

    • Vision_From_Afar

      See my long-winded arguments to “Guest.” I’m too lazy to type it out again, sorry. :)

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/cuttlefish Cuttlefish

    Can we make the Ahlquist scholarship an annual thing, and nominate Reyes?  He might not win, but he’d certainly be in the running!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      I’ll find $60,000 laying around :)

  • Mjrawlinson

    Hell is full of people with good intentions, sounds to me  most of the people here want to keep adding to it. Better really know before you die…..

    • Onamission5

      Because baseless threats work so well on people with functioning critical thinking skills?

      You’re pissing into the wind.

    • bath exile

      You realize that threatening an atheist with hell is about as pointless as a hippy threatening to punch you in your aura.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1308430408 Jesse Nicholson

    Our founding fathers are smiling now :)

  • MichaelI

    I wonder if any of these douchebags know that “separation of Church and State” is not in the Constitution. 

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      Sure it does.  Right before saying “Thou shalt pray five times per day, with thine head pointed towards Mecca, and thine ass pointed towards Mecca the long way round”

  • William Myron

    Are there no adults is this school or have we here a case of total capitulation to the whims of a child. Is there really a judge in Texas that would even hear this ridiculous complaint. Even if the Christphobes wanted to bring legal action.   

  • http://www.facebook.com/lucas.solano.1 Lucas Solano

    Jimmy status: Unrustled

  • Doubtful

    Actually, since religion can not be pushed in schools, he should not be allowed to push is denigration of religion either.

    In other words, if you can’t talk about religion…don’t.

  • Sara

    I am amazed how people forget that it is tradition and culture that create uniqueness among cultures and cause people to bond as groups. However, I salute individuality as one of the best things about our country. I hope Reyes remembers his grandmother’s God some day. I respect  the right of people not to believe in God, and I think God respects our right to not believe and that is why he gave us the power to decide. I have a brain, and my brain says, after a thorough education, that the complexity of the human body cannot just happen randomly. There are forces at work because I am a force at work.

  • Sara

    I am amazed how people forget that it is tradition and culture that create uniqueness among cultures and cause people to bond as groups. However, I salute individuality as one of the best things about our country. I hope Reyes remembers his grandmother’s God some day. I respect  the right of people not to believe in God, and I think God respects our right to not believe and that is why he gave us the power to decide. I have a brain, and my brain says, after a thorough education, that the complexity of the human body cannot just happen randomly. There are forces at work because I am a force at work.


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