Saturday, February 04, 2012

Judge Issues Candid Memos In School Graduation Prayer Lawsuit

In May, Americans United filed a lawsuit challenging the Medina Valley, Texas Independent School District's plan to include student-led prayers in its graduation ceremony. The district court issued a broad preliminary injunction against prayer. (See prior posting.) The 5th Circuit quickly dissolved the preliminary injunction. (See prior posting.) Since then, Western District of Texas federal district Judge Fred Biery has filed several interim rulings with rather candid observations on the case which is captioned Schultz v. Medina Valley Independent School District.  On Nov. 2, the court ruled on several motions, including allowing an amended complaint to be filed. In the opinion, Judge Biery said in part:
the parties are spending what appears to be inordinate amounts of money and time which could be better spent on educating students. That of course would require the parties, with the assistance of counsel, to find some reasonable compromise. Or as the modern urban philosopher Rodney King once said, “[C]an we all get along?”
On Nov. 28, the court filed a memorandum titled Observations on Approaching Jury Trial suggesting that the school district had already made concessions that should be sufficient for the parties to reach a settlement. Judge Biery concluded his observations as follows:
Nevertheless, if the parties choose to spend more money and take more time away from educating students, the Court will proceed with logistical jury trial planning, though the Court believes both sides will rue such choice. Jesus of Nazareth and St. Paul express the same lesson this way: You shall reap what you shall sow and They know not what they do.
In a Dec. 6 opinion, the court also expressed frank views on the decision of one of the plaintiffs to withdraw rather than disclose her identity as the court had said she must:
Throughout history, there have been people who take risks to stand up for what they believe to be right, and sometimes unfortunate consequences flow from their courage. Young people the same age as Corwin Schultz and Pat Doe lie in the cemeteries of Normandy because they did not shrink from their duty to scale the cliffs of Omaha Beach and ultimately defeat a government which would, if undefeated, have continued to oppress the Jewish minority.
Within the American Constitutional experience, Rosa Parks, Congressman John Lewis, and other African Americans could have gone quietly to the back of the bus, continued to go to separate restrooms and water fountains and subjugated their freedom and their right to vote to the will of the majority government holding power.
Finally, on Feb. 4, the court issued an Advisory on the right of student graduation speakers, given the school's agreement that it will not approve the student remarks:
Because of the governmental disclaimer, the student speaker's right under First Amendment concepts of free speech would allow for requests for private citizen audience participation in which private citizens might or might not join. For example, if a Muslim student were to be valedictorian, she or he could express a particular view verbally and physically within the Muslin tradition and the audience might or might not join in facing Mecca if requested.
On the other hand, those government officials on stage are, in that setting, not private citizens and represent the diverse religious and non-religious community as a whole. While the government official might agree with the student speaker, in the role of government official within First Amendment concepts of government not endorsing or promoting a particular religious belief, the government official should refrain from facing Mecca and expressing agreement while wearing the government hat.
San Antonio Express-News reports on the latest Advisory.