Pyrrhic Victory for the ACLU in Texas?
In Lewisville, Texas, there will be a benediction and invocation at the graduation ceremony on June 3rd this year, but thanks to the ACLU, the program will call them something else.
"Our attorneys have made it clear that we can continue to have student-led prayer, but we will call it 'student remarks,'" Kevin Rogers, chief operating officer of the Lewisville Independent School District, told the Dallas Morning News.
Thus, the ACLU of Texas won a pyrrhic battle in its ongoing campaign to wipe out any references to God in public school ceremonies.
"If the kids want to pray -- those who are participating and speaking at the graduation because they earned the right to do that in some way, either being the valedictorian, or student class president, or whatever the school prescribes -- then those kids can pray, if they so choose," Hiram Sasser, an attorney for the Texas-based Liberty Institute, told OneNewsNow. "And no government official can stop them."
"By their very name, they're prayers, they're religious speeches," said Stephanie Bauman, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. "It's unconstitutional for a school to make that part of the program and ask a student to deliver it. It's a great step to change the name to something more neutral."
It's not a perfect solution, though. By accepting the use of the term "remarks," the ACLU is forgoing a chance to challenge the offensive inclusion of the name of a book of the New Testament (the Gospel according to Mark). The ACLU could insist on using merely the descriptive term "words," except that the Gospel of John identifies Jesus as The Word. Is there no safe place in the public square for theophobes?
Last year, the ACLU lost a bid to stop a graduation prayer at Medina Valley High School in Castroville, Texas. The Chief Judge of the U.S. Western District, Samuel "Fred" Biery, Jr., a 1993 Bill Clinton appointee, had barred public prayer at the ceremony at the request of parents of an agnostic teen who claimed he would "suffer irreparable harm."
According to Liberty Institute attorney Erin Leu, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and the Medina Valley community supported the inclusion of prayer in the valedictory, with Cornyn calling the judge's order "an activist decision."
"Part of this goes to the very heart of the unraveling of moral values in this country," Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott told Fox News Radio. He accused the judge of wanting to turn school officials into "speech police."
"I've never seen such a restriction on speech issued by a court or the government," Abbott said. "It seems like a trampling of the First Amendment rather than protecting the First Amendment."
After the 5th U.S. District Court overturned Biery's order, Valedictorian Angela Hildenbrand delivered her speech, complete with thanks to God and a prayer for her classmates.
The teen who instigated the order declined to attend, according to OneNewsNow.
No report was issued on how many other agnostic teens fell to the ground in agony, thrashing about and holding their ears.
Robert Knight is Senior Fellow for the American Civil Rights Union.