Students can still thank God in Texas.
As has been the case for commencement ceremonies at most schools for most of the history of the United States, Medina Valley High School in Castroville, Texas sought to have an invocation or benediction at the beginning of their graduation ceremony. At this school it has often been customary in recent years to allow class valedictorian to lead the benediction so as to not ruffle the feathers of those who would deny school officials the job of doing so. But apparently some think even this will bring “irreparable harm” to some faint-hearted students. And last week, one Federal District judge in Texas agreed:
The original lawsuit was filed last week by an agnostic family whose son attends Medina Valley High School in Castroville, about 30 miles west of San Antonio. The Schultz family said their son would suffer “irreparable harm” if anyone prayed at the graduation ceremony.
[U.S. District Court Judge Fred] Biery ruled in favor of the Schultz family and ordered the school district to remove the words “invocation” and “benediction” from the program of ceremonies, replacing them with “opening remarks” and “closing remarks.” The judge further ordered that students and other speakers to refrain from asking those in the audience to “stand,” “join in prayer” or “bow their heads.”
“They shall not otherwise deliver a message that would commonly be understood to be a prayer, nor use the word ‘prayer,'” Biery wrote in his ruling.
This being Texas however, such things aren’t taken lightly. And after an emergency appeal was filed, a more sensible group of judges on a Federal Appeals court overturned the lower court judge.
The reality is that school functions like graduations aren’t merely ‘state’ functions. They are community functions that serve families and neighborhoods and individual students. They are celebrations of success and a rite of passage into adulthood. As such, they should be free to reflect the values and beliefs of the community. Any family who claims their child will be ‘irreparably harmed’ by exposure to a certain communities values should probably choose to send their child to another school, though I think such a claim is nonsensical on its face. If an 18 yr-old graduate is harmed by seeing a fellow student pray, then he or she probably isn’t ready for the bigger world anyway. And if an agnostic student ends up as valedictorian and gets to lead the ceremony of students and families at a public ceremony, they should be free to thanks whomever they think got them to the place they are, even if they think it is mere chance and luck.
Either way, it’s good to see freedom reign in Texas.