March 15, 2010

Another Brick in the Wall

The valedictorian at an Indianapolis High School does not wish to participate in a student-led Christian prayer at his graduation ceremony, and has filed suit challenging the school’s policy of allowing seniors to vote on the practice.

18 year-old Eric Workman says the school’s prayer policy violates the first amendment, and with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, he is asking a federal judge to intervene. Workman’s senior class approved the prayer by majority vote, a practice that he believes subjects religious practice to majority rule.

Workman complains that graduates and the audience should not be forced into a "religious exercise" during graduation ceremonies, and that Greenwood Community High School cannot override our Constitution's separation of church and state.

Workman says the prayer question was among several issues contained on a ballot passed out by school staff at a September, 2009 mandatory assembly. He learned from an unnamed school employee that a majority of seniors had voted in favor of the prayer, but that several had voted against it.

In spite of minority dissent, according to Workman's complaint, "a majority of the seniors voted to have the prayer and therefore it would be occurring at the graduation."

The complaint further states that the public high school and its principal have "established a forum, in the school itself, for religious debate and have subjected religious practice to a majority vote."

David Edds, Greenwood Superintendent of Schools, said a student-approved prayer has been a long-standing feature at graduation, but attorney Ken Falk of the ACLU says, customary or not, allowing the prayer, or even allowing the vote, violates previous SCOTUS rulings finding religion in public school-sponsored events to be a violation of the First Amendment.

The lawsuit names the school district and the Greenwood’s principal as defendants.

Local preacher Shan Rutherford fails to understand the unique protections offered by our Constitution, and disagrees that such a prayer violates student rights.

If I lived in a Muslim nation, a Hindu nation or anything else, I would expect to go along with the majority,” said Rutherford. “He’s [Workman] trying to go with minority rule. To me, that’s wrong in a democracy, one that was founded on Christian principles.”

Pastor Rutherford has it wrong on all counts. If born in a Muslim or Hindu nation, Rev. Rutherford, having apparently fallen for the Myth of Jesus, would likely have fallen for whatever religious myths to which he was exposed, so I can see why he might defend the majority rule misconception.

Young Workman, however, learned the reason for, and the meaning of, the separation clause in high school civics… a class apparently skipped by the Rev. Rutherford.

If majority rule was the intent of the founders, slavery would likely still be the law of the land, and the burning of witches might be accepted religious practice. The separation clause exists for the same reason as all other sections of our Constitution… because our founders, understanding that human rights are not subject to vote, wished to protect the minority from the majority.

SCOTUS has historically recognized this to be true. Opinions prohibiting schools allowing or promoting prayer include McCollum v. Board of Education, (1948), in which the court found religious instruction in public schools a violation of the establishment clause and therefore unconstitutional.

In the landmark Warren court decision, Engel v. Vitale, (1962), several New York families complained that their children were forced to participate in the recital of a prayer composed by school officials. Praying to "Almighty God," they claimed, contradicted their non-Christian religious beliefs. SCOTUS agreed.

In Murray v. Curlett, (1963) and the related Abington School District v. Schempp, (1963) SCOTUS ruled against compulsory bible reading as part of public school curriculum.

More recently, in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe (2002) SCOTUS ruled that a Texas high school could not allow students to deliver Christian prayers over the public address system at football games.

These decisions leave little doubt but that the high court believes that religion does not belong in, and should not be sponsored by, public schools.

Still, school boards keep testing the limits. One must wonder how many more slap-downs will be required before America’s public schools get out of the religion business.

Thankfully, or so it seems, young Workman has a grasp of the true value of our Constitution… that it was crafted to protect the minority from majority rule. Regardless of the Circuit Court's ruling the case will make its way to the high court, the durability of our Constitution will prevail, and SCOTUS will undoubtedly rule in Workman's favor.

As to the Rev. Rutherford’s Christian Nation myth, well that has been thoroughly debunked as well.

Will they ever learn?



montag said...

What they have learned is that if they keep coming at you someday you will give up and your rights will be their to dispose of. Zealots are like cockroaches, you can't kill them all.

Anonymous said...

montag beat me to it. Reference the recent Texas Board of Education successes along "xtian" lines . . .

Mule Breath said...

The dumbing down of the curriculum and creative revisionism in educational standards is responsible for those who give up their rights.

When you consider that a movie actor makes more from one bad film than a dozen teachers do in a combined lifetime, the effect of the dumbing down becomes evident.

Rogue Medic said...

It continues to amaze me that people do not understand that the whole purpose of the Bill of Rights is to protect minorities. Including religious minorities.

OTOH, if they want to go with majority rule, the home for the official religion might turn out to have a .xxx web site.