Valedictorian fights judge’s ban on graduation prayer

Valedictorian fights judge’s ban on graduation prayer

By Jim Forsyth Jim Forsyth Thu Jun 2, 5:44 pm ET

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) The valedictorian of a high school in a San Antonio suburb where a judge has banned formal prayers at graduation ceremonies on Saturday is fighting for an opportunity to lead the crowd in prayer.

On Thursday, the North Texas-based Liberty Institute, a nonprofit that describes itself as seeking to limit government and promote Judeo-Christian values, filed a lawsuit on behalf of the valedictorian of Castroville’s Medina Valley High School, Angela Hildenbrand.

“After all that I’ve been taught about the freedoms of speech, expression and religion in our country, I am disappointed that my liberties are being infringed upon by this court’s ruling to censor my speech,” Hildenbrand said at a press conference at the Alamo.

U.S. District Judge Fred Biery ruled on Tuesday that the Medina Valley School District may not proceed with plans to include an invocation or benediction at the ceremony, saying that doing so would make it sound like the school is “sponsoring a religion.”

He said student speakers may reference God in their remarks.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Wednesday asked a federal appeals court to overturn the order.

“This is part of an ongoing attempt to purge God from the public setting, while at the same time demanding from the court increased yielding to all things agnostic and atheistic,” Abbott said.

He said Congress begins each session with a prayer to God, and Biery’s ruling would allow a student to “bend over in honor of Mecca,” but not lead a prayer to the Christian God.

The case has been seized by both sides in the ongoing debate over references to religion in schools and in public places.

The judge’s ruling followed a lawsuit against the district by agnostics Christa and Danny Schultz saying their son might not take part in graduation if he were forced to participate in religious activities.

Ayesha Kahn, an attorney for Americans United for Church and State, which represents the Schultzes, said earlier this week that the district “has been flouting the law for decades.”

But some residents of the town of about 3,000 about 20 miles west of San Antonio, which still strongly retains the flavor of the French Catholics who founded it in the 1850s, object to halting the community tradition of invocation at graduation.

“My best friend last year said the prayer, and it was really cool that my best friend, who I have known since I was three years old, said the prayer, and now it turns out that she may be the last one to ever say the prayer at Medina Valley,” Kelsey Johnson, who graduated from the high school last year, told Reuters.

(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Jerry Norton)

I can understand both sides of the argument, but doesn’t there have to be a point where the actions or words of an individual reflect solely on the individual and not an organization? If an organization financially sponsors a movement, then that organization should have to deal with the public opinion right? If an employee does contributes financially, no one assumes that the company supports the same position right? Why is it different with religion? Why can I not say in a public forum that these are my beliefs and are not necessarily the beliefs of the school? Television stations do that all of the time for paid advertisers and that seems to work.


Filed under Bible, Christianity, Misc, Politics, Religion

5 responses to “Valedictorian fights judge’s ban on graduation prayer

  1. But this is not an issue of free speech; it’s an establishment issue. The person can say whatever she wants but not as valedictorian leading a public prayer because she’s forcing everyone to participate. That’s illegal. It’s against the law. And it’s against the law for a very good reason.

    To figure out what this means, imagine you’re sitting in the audience and your son or daughter’s valedictorian suddenly starts leading the gallery in series of prayers praising Allah, or thanking Ron L. Hubbard for academic success, or granting to Baal the best wishes and heartfelt thanks for his moral guidance. It’s completely inappropriate for the reason why you are there – a graduation ceremony and not a religious ceremony – and turns it into an event for promoting some faith that has nothing whatsoever to do with your son or daughter’s successful graduation.

    But do you care if a person sits quietly beside you and thinks about and/or silently recites prayers? Of course not because it’s no business of yours.In the reception area if the same person talks to you about his or her religious beliefs you have the option of asking the person to stop or walk away but you do not have this luxury in the gallery unless you forfeit your place and have to choose between staying put for the ceremony for which you attended or leaving and no one should put you in such a position for their religious sensibilities. A public prayer becomes your business when you are forced to participate because of a public representative’s stupidity and narrow-mindedness and arrogance and insensitivity to include it. Putting people in that position – of staying and putting up with Baal’s songs of praise or leaving – is at the very least incredibly rude. Fortunately, it’s also illegal because believers have a difficult time understanding that freedom of religion depends on getting it out of the public domain.

  2. What can happen if you complain about prayer at graduation. Do you think Damon can feel the ‘love’?

  3. Perhaps this clarifies the issue for those who are still confused why graduation prayers by valedictorians are illegal and unconstitutional.

  4. No one is forced to participate by listening to someone talk. They are subjected to the words and ideas, but it is not a requirement for them to follow a long and participate. If people would be forced to participate in any form of prayer, then I would agree that it is unconstitutional.

    Your article about the constitutionality on prayer/ religion helps to solidify my position I think. The graduation occurs during a “non-instructional” time and it is not mandatory that people attend in order to graduate or participate while a prayer is being offered. This is not like a school asking everyone to say the Lord’s Prayer in unison. I would feel the same way if the prayer being offered was from a Muslim, Hindu, or Jew.

    I think further proof of the constitutionality is the allowance of prayer during government functions. Prayers are offered up during sessions of congress. Would not this be a greater source of promoting religion than a prayer during a high school graduation?

  5. Big question comes down to this idea “the community tradition of invocation at graduation”. Plus it’s just a prayer – heck I even like the idea of someone being a Muslim valedictorian and bending in honor towards Mecca as honoring this same tradition. For me, religion is tied to culture in many ways – and this is a cultural thing happening in this school.

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