Is a High School Athlete’s Gesture to God Worth a Disqualification?

Columbus High School athlete Derrick Hayes ran the anchor leg for his track team’s 4 x 100-meter relay. Last week, he helped win the race that would have qualified his team for the state tournament… but tournament officials said he broke the rules and wouldn’t be allowed to move on.

His violation?

As Hayes crossed the finish line in first, he “put his hand by his ear and just pointed to the heavens,” Hayes’ father said.

Officials ruled that the gesture violated a state scholastic rule against excessive celebration, which includes raising one’s hands. The team was disqualified, and barred from competing at the state championships.

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Columnist: We Must Save Our Schools from Creationism

Syndicated columnist Tina Dupuy was raised as a Creationist but eventually discovered science. In a recent column she talked about why it’s so important that we not let Christian myth make its way into our public schools and she does it with the sort of rhetoric you rarely see from people who don’t have a personal stake in the matter:

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After Turning Last Year’s Graduation Into a Church Service, a Superintendent Finally Sees the Light

At last year’s graduation ceremony for Veterans High School in Georgia, Superintendent Robin Hines went full-force in making sure Christianity was honored along with the students. The event included a formal prayer, the singing of a gospel song (“Find Your Wings” by Mark Harris), and Hines himself spoke to the students about how they needed to “live life with a strong faith in God.”

Wes Bryant, an actual veteran who was there to watch his niece graduate, couldn’t believe what he was hearing so he alerted the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which sent the school a complaint letter:

“It’s really angering to come back and be exposed to that — to be expected to be a Christian wherever I’m at and not have your beliefs or lack of belief honored in your community,” said Bryant, an atheist, when reached by phone Monday. “(Christianity) is the majority religion, we know that, but it is nonetheless honoring one religion at a public school forum.”

“It alienates everyone else that doesn’t believe the same way, and it does send a message from the school, which does in some way represent the government,” he said.

At the time, Hines made no promise of changing anything in the future, and that’s usually a bad sign. You would expect him to keep things just the way they are.

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Brave Atheist Students Stop ‘Student-Led’ Graduation Prayers at Kentucky High School

Lincoln County High School in Kentucky is one of those schools where administrators, knowing that the majority of students are Christian, let students vote on whether or not they want a prayer during their graduation ceremony. Guess what? They usually want one.

This year, though, six students decided they didn’t want to put up with it, so they spoke to their principal about the potential constitutional violation at hand and got the policy changed:

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Liberty Counsel’s Annual Push for Christian Students to Pray at Public School Graduations

Public school graduation ceremonies are supposed to be celebrations for everyone involved, which is why it’s so frustrating when Christians try to use the venues as an opportunity to proselytize to a captive audience.

This year, like they’ve done many times before, Liberty Counsel is encouraging Christian students who get a chance to speak onstage to pray to Jesus and they’re making sure students know all the legal loopholes (PDF) to make it happen:

“The key to expressing any religious viewpoint in public school, including graduation prayer, is that the school should remain neutral — neither commanding nor prohibiting it,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel.

“Students do not lose their constitutional right to free speech when they step to the podium at graduation,” Staver said. “To allow a variety of viewpoints except religious viewpoints at graduation is religious hostility and unconstitutional. While schools should not force people to pray, neither should they prohibit them from praying.”

This is part of their “Friend or Foe” campaign, a title they also use when pointing out retail stores that use the word “Christmas” (or don’t) in their holiday advertising.

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