A friend recently sent me a copy of a Court Order approving a settlement in a hotly contested case from a small town in Texas. The Plaintiffs had complained that the school corporation engaged in pervasive and unconstitutional religious activities over a period of years–prayers over the loudspeakers, constant religious references by the Principal, prayers at athletic contests and graduation ceremonies and more. Students who complained were disciplined.
The judge’s opinion–especially the unusual “Personal Note” that he added–are worth reading in their entirety; the Personal Note appears below. His Appendix–which is not reproduced, but is also accessible on line–is a first-rate history of church/state relations through American history. I particularly appreciated the opening section of the Opinion, “What this case was NOT about,” in which he made a point not sufficiently emphasized: any child can pray in school at any time. The issue is whether public school officials–arms of the government–can promote or require that prayer.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State issued a press release detailing the major elements of the settlement:
* School district personnel will not display crosses, religious images, religious quotations, Bibles or religious texts, or other religious icons or artifacts on the walls, hallways, and other areas at the school.
* The district will not invite speakers, including government officials or community leaders, whom it has reason to believe will proselytize or promote religion during their remarks.
* The Medina Valley High School student handbook will contain a section on students’ rights to religious freedom, including the importance of respect for and tolerance of students from all backgrounds and the specific procedures for registering a complaint with district personnel about violations.
* The district will provide annual training to all district personnel who interact with students or parents or who supervise those who interact with students or parents. The training will cover a variety of topics related to students’ rights and church-state separation.
The release clarifies the terms of the agreement, but it’s only when you read the brief “Personal Statement” the Judge appended that you really appreciate the nastiness of the controversy, and the tenor of the “debate” conducted by the “religious” folk involved.
“A PERSONAL STATEMENT
During the course of this litigation,many have played a part:
To the United States Marshal Service and local police who have provided heightened security: Thank you.
To those Christians who have venomously and vomitously cursed the Court family and threatened bodily harm and assassination:In His name,I forgive you.
To those who have prayed for my death: Your prayers will some day be answered,as inevitability trumps probability.
To those in the executive and legislative branches of government who have demagogued this case for their own political goals:You should be ashamed of yourselves.
To the lawyers who have advocated professionally and respectfully for their clients’ respective positions:Bless you.”