AAS has the story, Round Rock district is sued over student prayer, and Americans United has an article as well, Religious Liberty Watchdog Group Says School Officials May Not Promote ‘Majority Rules’ Prayer At Graduation. I can’t find a press release or any official statement on the RRISD web site. Here’s what this is all about:
The plaintiffs, some of whom describe themselves as atheists, argue that the district violated the First Amendment when it allowed students at four high schools to vote on whether to have a commencement prayer.
It’s the US Constitution that determines whether or not a prayer can be said in this situation, not a majority of the senior class. From the AAS story here’s what RRISD Superintendent Jesus Chavez had to say:
Superintendent JesÃºs ChÃ¡vez said the district consulted closely with lawyers while formulating its latest policies and actions and will defend them.
ChÃ¡vez said Round Rock school leaders crafted their policy and actions regarding graduation prayers with care.
“Through the graduation process, we worked with our attorneys, and we followed federal court cases as closely as possible,” he said.
“As closely as possible”, leaves it open to interpretation that they didn’t follow the letter of the law. Which would mean they strayed somewhere along the line to allow for the prayers at graduations.Â Americans United article paints quite a different picture:
â€œGraduation ceremonies should welcome all students, regardless of their beliefs about religion,â€ said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. â€œReligion is personal, and decisions about it should never be the subject of a â€˜majority rulesâ€™ vote.â€
The school district policy allows a yearly vote by seniors on whether to include prayer in graduation ceremonies. In 2007, three of the districtâ€™s four high schools decided in favor of prayer. Americans United charges in its lawsuit that school officials organize, oversee and attempt to manipulate the votes on whether to include prayer at the ceremonies.
For example, earlier this year, officials at the districtâ€™s four high schools conducted the votes on whether to include prayer at the 2007 graduation ceremonies. The senior class at Westwood High School was the only class to vote against prayer, and it was promptly ordered by district officials to conduct a re-vote. Westwood seniors, however, again voted against prayer at their graduation ceremonies.
â€œThere could be no mistake among the students that the vote was an official school-sponsored event: school officials crafted the ballot and orchestrated and carried out ballot delivery, collection, and tabulation,â€ Americans United argues in its Does v. Round Rock Independent School District lawsuit. â€œAnd there could be no mistake among the students about which way the District expected them to vote: the one senior class that voted to reject the invocation was promptly ordered to re-vote on the issue.â€
As Capitol Annex points out with their analysis of this issue, expect more of this:
You can bet, after RVAA is fully implemented, weâ€™ll be seeing a whole lot more of this
Not familiar with the Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act (RVAAO)? Well your legislature passed it last session and it’s creating quite a stir leading into this school year. To get familiar with it, it’s highly recommended to read this letter from Rep. Scott Hochberg (D- Houston) regarding ” the bill’s model policy”.
I have been contacted by various school district officials regarding the implementation of HB 3678 and, in particular, regarding the correspondence discussing that bill from Mr. Howard and Mr. Chisum which is posted on the TEA site. As you know, I participated in the debate on that bill on the House floor, and much of that debate was transcribed and published in the House Journal for purposes of intent.
I have long been an ardent advocate for religious freedom. I was the primary House sponsor of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and have passed numerous other bills to protect the right of each Texan to practice one’s religion as one chooses.
Inherent in that right is the right of parents to control the religious training and influences of their children, and this right should not be abrogated by attendance in public schools.
There are several important points concerning the adoption of a policy under the bill which I believe should be emphasized to your membership, as follows:
Click the letter link above to read the entire letter. Here’ the letter from Rep.’s Charlie Howard and Warren Chisum referred to in Rep. Hochberg’s letter.
What does all this mean? It means there will be much wasted time, money, effort and frustration on both sides, rehashing an argument our Founding Fathers settled well over 200 years ago.