Are Sectarian Prayers by Students at Graduation Coercive?Somervell County Salon-Glen Rose, Rainbow, Nemo, Glass....Texas


Are Sectarian Prayers by Students at Graduation Coercive?

5 June 2011 at 4:43:42 PM

Let's start with a premise. Student-led prayers at school sports events are illegal, as are graduation prayers that are sectarian or prosletyze. This is a decision from the Supreme Court of the United States; Santa Fe Independent School District v 530 US 290

Greg Abbott issued an amicus brief for the appeal to  the Schultz vs Medina Valley ISD case recently, where a valedictorian enjoined the crowd, if they were willing, to join her in a sectarian prayer. She did this not just once but twice in the graduation ceremony. Medina had originally put the invocation and benediction, which everyone knows are prayers, on the graduation ceremony program, but when sued by the Schultz's, changed those words to *opening* and *closing* remarks. The valedictorian wanted to lead the audience in prayer, was upset that a court banned her from doing so and did an emergency appeal. The appeals court overruled the ban, the valedictorian did her sectarians prayers and the case has been remanded back down.

Abbot said, as a way to justify why the Santa Fe Independent School District case that struck down student-led prayer...

3. The Supreme Court’s decision striking down student-led, student-initiated prayers at
Texas high school football games changes neither the applicable test, nor the proper outcome, in this case. First, in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290 (2000), the Supreme Court acknowledges without purporting to overrule this Court’s decision on remand in Jones. Id. at 299- 301. And second, the Supreme Court notes the Fifth Circuit’s recognition that football games are “‘a setting that is far less solemn and extraordinary’” than graduation ceremonies, id. at 300 (quoting Doe v. Duncanville Indep. Sch. Dist., 70 F.3d 402, 406-07 (5th Cir. 1995)), and that football games are “hardly the sober type of annual event that can be appropriately solemnized with prayer,” id. (quoting Doe v. Santa Fe Indep. Sch. Dist., 168 F.3d 806, 823 (5th Cir. 1999)).

I looked at page 299 and 300 of the Santa Fe case and um, the case notes are NOT saying that sectarian, proslytizing prayer at a more solemn ceremony is acceptable, versus a football game. In fact, is Abott trying to say that Some Prayers are Better Than Others? If you read the context, you'll see that, in fact, the case law is saying that the defendants cannot use an excuse of graduation prayer to say that sports prayers are okay. from p 300

"The controlling feature here is the same as Duncanville. The prayers are to be delivered at football games-hardly the sober type of annual event that can be appropriately solemnized with prayer. The distinction to which the District points is simply one without difference. Regardless of whether the paryers are selected by vote or spontaneously initiated at these frequently occurring, informal, school sponsored events, school officials are present and have the authority to stop the prayers. Thus, as we indicated in Duncanville, our decision in Clear Creek II hinged on the singular context and singularly serious nature of a graduation ceremony. Ouside that nurturing context, a Clear Creek prayer policy cannot survive.

Again, even a student-led prayer at a graduation ceremony has to fit within the bounds of non-sectarian and non--proslytizing.

Note that (p 298) Santa Fe tried to change it's policy to take out the word prayer and put instead "messages" and "statements" (just as Medina did by changing the words invocation and benediction).  The court would have none of that when it came to making the entire case moot.

The District Court did enter an order precluding enforcement of the first, open-ended policy. Relying on our decision in Lee v Weisman 505 US 577 (1992) it held that the school's "action must not 'coerce anyone to support or participate in' a religious exercise." App to Pet. for Cert E7. Applying that test, it concluded that the graduation prayers appealed "to distinctly Christian beliefs" and that delivering a paryer "over the school's public address system prior to each football and baseball game coerces student participation in religious events". Both parties appealed, the District contending that the enjoined portion of the October policy was permissible and the Does contending that both alternatives violated the Establishment Clause. The Court of Appeals majority agreed with the Does.

The decision of the Court of Appeals followed Fifth Circuit precedent that had announced two rules. In Jones v Clear Creek Independent School Dist 977 F 2d 963 (1992) that court held that student-led prayer that was approved by a vote of the students and was nonsectarian and nonproselytizing was permissible at high school graduation ceremonies.

That was, of course, before the Santa Fe decision 8 years later.

Let's see. Was the prayer led by the Medina high school valedictorian non-sectarian? Don't know, maybe she didn't end her prayer in Jesus name but merely referenced God throughout. (UPDATE: Yes, it was sectarian).

"And most of all I thank you for your great love for us and for our great nation where we are free, and it's in Jesus' name I pray. Amen," said Hildenbrand.


But it's interesting that  the San Antonio Express says the whole graduation was a circus of revivalist sentiments. Why didn't Abbot reference the footnote from page 299 (7) which reads.

"The graduation prayers at issue in the instant case, in contrast, are infused with explicit references to Jesus Christ and otherwise appeal to distinctly Christian beliefs. The Court accordingly finds that use of these prayers during graduation ceremonies, considered in light of the overall manner in which they were delivered, violated the Establishment Clause."

The footnote right before it, while referrring to sports events prayers, also mentions that "Any message and'/or invocation delivered by a student must be nonsectarian and nonproselytizing". One of the students  offering a prayer did it in Jesus name.

And so, apparently, according to KENS5, did Angela Hildenbrand.Let's repeat what she prayed.

"And most of all I thank you for your great love for us and for our great nation where we are free, and it's in Jesus' name I pray. Amen," said Hildenbrand.


What's interesting also about the Santa Fe case is that the defendants tried to say that having prayer was okay because attending sports activities is *voluntary*. But that is flat not the way to look at graduations, which are one time ceremonial events that should be free from any hint of coercion around religious activities and should not be singling out those who might choose not to participate.

"Whether you would like to join me or not, feel free to do as you see best," Hildenbrand said shortly before she prayed. "God, I thank you for the support of the entire community through this case hearing."

Not the entire community, eh? Not so for the Schultz boy who didn't attend. Isn't that prosletyzing? At the very least, it highly discriminatory, childish and rude and excludes all that don't fit into that religious view.

From Friendly Atheist

I can understand why he chose not to attend. It’s not like they made an effort to make non-Christians feel welcome.

So this is what happens when prayer is allowed at graduation. The stage becomes a substitute pulpit for the Christians who get up there, and it becomes a lonely couple of hours for all the Jews, Muslims, atheists, Hindus, and students of other faiths who happen to be members of the graduating class but just aren’t praying to the most popular deity of them all.

Well done, administration. You found a way to make one of the most memorable moments in a student’s life into a divisive Christian rally. If that’s your definition of leadership, I pity all those students under your control.

I like this also from pedagogic-verses

When governmental agencies present a message, such as by a speaker they select, that is religious in nature or purpose, they are separating the recipients of the message into those who agree and those who do not agree.  When such a separation is created in the minds of the people there is at best an implication, at worst a declaration, that those who are not included in the group of agreement are inferior citizens and people.  Such presentations imbue the government with religious perspective that by its very nature divides a people against each other.

In more straightforward terms; every time a school sponsors a prayer, even if it is non-denominational, every non-religious citizen and I are being sent the message that we are inferior to those who agree with the beliefs presented.  This is abhorrent and should cease immediately.

That includes student-led prayer, sectarian in nature and done from the school A/V equipment.

It seems that someone who is affected by these shenanigans should follow the lawsuit chain all the way up. The Santa Fe case, with regard to sports prayers said

We granted the District's petition for certiorari, limited to the following question "Whether petitioner's policy permitting student-led, student-initiated prayer at football games violates the Establishment Clause". ... We conclude, as did the Court of Appeals, that it does.

And so does student-led sectarian prayer at graduation ceremonies, done by the immature.

P.S. See also Lee v Weisman

370 U.S. 421 374 U.S. 203


    (c) The Establishment Clause was inspired by the lesson that in the hands of government what might begin as a tolerant expression of religious views may end in a policy to indoctrinate and coerce. Prayer exercises in elementary and secondary schools carry a particular risk of indirect coercion. Engel v. Vitale, ; School Dist. of Abington v. Schempp, . The school district's supervision and control of a high school graduation ceremony places subtle and indirect public and peer pressure on attending students to stand as a group or maintain respectful silence during the invocation and benediction. A reasonable dissenter of high school age could believe that standing or remaining silent signified her own participation in, or approval of, the group exercise, rather than her respect for it. And the State may not place the student dissenter in the dilemma of participating or protesting. Since adolescents are often susceptible to peer pressure, especially in matters of social convention, the State may no more use social pressure to enforce orthodoxy than it may use direct means. The embarrassment and intrusion of the religious exercise cannot be refuted by arguing that the prayers are of a de minimis character, since that is an affront to the rabbi and those for whom the prayers have meaning, and since any intrusion was both real and a violation of the objectors' rights. Pp. 590-594.

(d) Petitioners' argument that the option of not attending the ceremony excuses any inducement or coercion in the ceremony itself is rejected. In this society, high school graduation is one of life's most significant occasions, and a student is not free to absent herself from the exercise in any real sense of the term "voluntary." Also not dispositive is the contention that prayers are an essential part of these ceremonies because, for many persons, the occasion would lack meaning without the recognition that human achievements cannot be understood apart from their spiritual essence. This position fails to acknowledge that what   for many was a spiritual imperative was for the Weismans religious conformance compelled by the State. It also gives insufficient recognition to the real conflict of conscience faced by a student who would have to choose whether to miss graduation or conform to the state-sponsored practice in an environment where the risk of compulsion is especially high. Pp. 594-596.

P.P.S. Rick Perry's response.

I laughed when I saw this statement by Perry about the state-sponsored prayer at Medina Valley High School, Castroville, TX.

"This reprehensible action taken by a federal judge underscores the increasingly inappropriate federal encroachment into the lives of Americans by unconstitutionally banning prayer at a Texas high school graduation. The First Amendment prohibits governments from interfering with Americans' rights to freely express their religious beliefs, and accordingly the U.S. Supreme Court has maintained that Congress may convene every day with a prayer. I fully support Attorney General Abbott's efforts to defend the right to pray, and Texas will continue to stand behind all those who wish to pray in our state."


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