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Court Lifts Ban on Prayer at High School Graduation, Despite Agnostic Family’s Protests

Court Lifts Ban on Prayer at High School Graduation, Despite Agnostic Family’s Protests

This Saturday, students and families at the graduation ceremony for a high school in San Antonio, Texas, will be asked to bow their heads in prayer.  This is despite the struggles of Christa and Danny Schultz, a couple whose son will be among the graduation class, who claimed that the school’s traditions, like the invocation and benediction, would force them to participate in religious activities, even though they are agnostic. 

The Schulzes filed a lawsuit, backed by the organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State, against the school district, and were initially successful when a district court forbade the school to include prayer in its graduation exercises.  Now, an emergency appeal has overturned the ban, which Texas Gov. Rick Perry called “reprehensible.”  The school valedictorian, Angela Hildenbrand, who wanted to pray during her speech, will be permitted to do so.

Conservative organizations lauded the lifting of the ban as “a complete victory for religious freedom and for Angela.”  But the original ruling did not ban mention of religion; rather, Chief U.S. District Judge Fred Biery stipulated that, according to the San Antonio Express-News, “the school district must tell its graduation speakers that they can talk about religion and their personal beliefs but can’t pray or call on the audience to pray.”  He suggested, too, that students be allowed to make “statements of their own beliefs,” like making the sign of the cross, wearing certain religious garments, or kneeling to face Mecca.

So it sounds less like Biery was attacking students’ rights to religious expression, and instead protecting audience members and fellow students from being forced to participate in a religious activity with which they did not identify.  And the school district seems to have responded, at least in some elements of the graduation ceremony, changing “invocation” and “benediction” to “opening remarks” and “closing remarks,” in response to the lawsuit.

What is more troubling is the fact that the valedictorian will still be allowed to ask audience members to pray, despite the fact that they might not be religious, or ascribe to her faith tradition.  This isn’t about “censoring” her speech – it’s an attempt to make sure that the graduation ceremony is comfortable for all attendees.  And the change could be as simple as asking audience members to “close their eyes in a spirit of reflection or prayer,” rather than asking them to bow their heads in prayer. 

The rhetoric that has emerged around this issue is disturbingly intense on both sides.  Senator John Cornyn said that Biery’s ruling represented an attack on “all things religious in public life,” while both Biery and Hildenbrand have received threats of violence.

What do you think?  Was Biery right, or the appeals court?  Should Hildenbrand be allowed to ask her audience members to pray during her valedictory speech?

 

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Photo from Valeriebb's Flickr.

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277 comments

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8:18PM PDT on Jun 13, 2011

Robert: That is soo true and clever

6:59PM PDT on Jun 13, 2011

We have to allow prayer in all schools. There are no atheists before finals!

9:55AM PDT on Jun 13, 2011

I did not say they did, but there are way to many brands of 'christians' for me (or anyone for that matter) to try to determine what a 'true' christian is. I suspect there any many people who claim the 'christian' brand that would take exception to your particular brand. But, not to fear, in a thousand years it will change as much again as it already has in its effort to remain relevant. By then your brand will no longer exist and 'modern' christians will ridicule you for your ancient, ignorant beliefs, but, hey, that's all in the game of indoctrinate and control.
It is very sad to see how disrespect Christians, firstable it is not a Brand, we are not make in a factory, second, Love never change and it is not Control, others Christians like my self we Do or Don't not because what mankind say, rather what we know is pure and acceptable to the true God, the God of Israel,
and his only begotten Son. He lives in my heart and his Holy Word teach me love my enemies, that is priceless, something that you don't know or understand, and not matter what you say, not matter your sarcasm towards me and my fellow believers I have and endless compasion for you, because the One that lives in me is Greater than any thing else in Heaven or Earth.
May the Lord bless you and keep you, may He shine His face upon you, and grant you Peace!

6:15AM PDT on Jun 12, 2011

As for Rick Perry, let us pray for him and the direction in which he is leading Texas. Lord, have mercy!

11:06PM PDT on Jun 11, 2011

What's so troubling about it,as the article says? So the valedictorian is going to ask the audience to pray. Horror! If you don't want to,then don't.What's to be unconfortable about? I'm not a religous person,and if I were in that audience I wouldn't join the prayer,but I wouldn't stop anyone else from doing it.Damn,people!

3:20AM PDT on Jun 11, 2011

Zulima wrote: "To Larry: True Christians do not hate!"

I did not say they did, but there are way to many brands of 'christians' for me (or anyone for that matter) to try to determine what a 'true' christian is. I suspect there any many people who claim the 'christian' brand that would take exception to your particular brand. But, not to fear, in a thousand years it will change as much again as it already has in its effort to remain relevant. By then your brand will no longer exist and 'modern' christians will ridicule you for your ancient, ignorant beliefs, but, hey, that's all in the game of indoctrinate and control.

7:48PM PDT on Jun 10, 2011

To Larry: True Christians do not hate!

3:05PM PDT on Jun 10, 2011

is it really that big an issue? it's a lot like a little kid telling everybody what he asked santa to leave under the tree.

they're just asking an imaginary being to "give them prezzies"...

2:45PM PDT on Jun 10, 2011

Zulima wrote "To Larry W: there you go telling me about my manners, again when people know they are wrong they started insulting and calling names.
For your information respect go both ways, evry thing with you is about you and what you think, how about what others want or need?
I'm going to include you in my daily prayers, and peace be with you"

Zulima, I am glad that you christians have made progress toward civilization. Not so long ago I would have been burned at the stake, now you pray for me. Guess that shows there is still hope for you!

1:09PM PDT on Jun 10, 2011

Where is this seperation spelled out?

Original Message:
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Hello,

Vasu left a comment on the following article:


Court Lifts Ban on Prayer at High School Graduation, Despite Agnostic Family's Protests
Church-state separation protects Christians, too.

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