Saturday, June 4, 2011

San Antonio kids to be allowed prayer at graduation

New Orleans – Valedictorian Angela Hildenbrand will be able to go ahead with her plans to lead graduation ceremonies in prayer.

The San Antonio area Medina Valley Independent School District had been enjoined by a U.S. District Judge from allowing prayer at the commencement, except for allowing students to wear a yarmulke or hijab, kneel or face Mecca, make the sign of the cross, or declare “statements of their own belief.”

Ms. Hildenbrand filed an intervention lawsuit that claimed she was thereby deprived of her right to freedom of worship and expression under the terms of the First Amendment.

Judge Fred Biery originally ruled that referring to prayer as an “invocation,” or inviting participants to join in prayer, to bow their heads, or any of the traditional exhortations to invoke the name of deity to be in violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

The clause states, in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...”

The appeals court reversed his ruling, stating in a brief two-page ruling that the lawsuit may be partly rooted in circumstances that are no longer in the ceremony.

“For example, the school has apparently abandoned including the words 'invocation' and 'benediction.'”

An attorney of Pakistani extraction named Ayesha Khan filed suit on behalf of Christa and Danny Schultz, who complained that watching their son receive his diploma would amount to forced religious participation.

Part of the suit's allegations of complaint included use of phrases invoking prayer, or a request for the audience to bow their heads. Such invitations to prayer are coercive in the context of a government-supported ceremony or compulsory attendance of a government-supported institution, according to various federal court holdings.

“Students should be able to attend their graduation ceremonies without being pressured to participate in worship,” Ms. Khan said. All children should feel welcome at this important event in their lives regardless of their opinions about religion.”

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed a brief as an intervenor, saying “It should not be illegal for students to say a prayer at a graduation ceremony. Now, the federal court of appeals agrees.”

Ms. Khan was the lead lawyer in a famous and controversial challenge to Chief Justice Roy Moore's erection of a Ten Commandments monument in a judicial building in Montgomery, Alabama.

A self-proclaimed expert on First Amendment issues, including the separation of church and state, the free exercise of religion, and the right of free speech, she is the lead attorney for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The organization's legal team has litigated dozens of cases, and filed scores of friend-of-the-court briefs which have challenged the presentation of prayers at public-school events, public funding of faith-based institutions, and religious displays on public property in jurisdictions throughout the nation and before the U.S. Supreme Court.

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