Friday, February 10, 2012

Texas Graduation Prayer Litigation Settled

Apparently bowing to the trial court judge's pressure to settle the case (see prior posting), the parties yesterday  entered a settlement agreement (full text) in Schultz v. Medina Valley Independent School District, (WD TX, Feb. 9, 2012). The suit, filed by Americans United, challenged the school district's plan to include student-led prayers in its graduation ceremony.  The settlement covers not only graduation prayer, but a range of issues relating to religion in the public schools. (AU press release). Under the settlement, the valedictorian or class president can deliver remarks at graduation. The school may not suggest, revise or edit the content of the remarks, and must deliver an oral and written disclaimer stating that students' remarks reflect their personal views and are not endorsed by the school. In this context, a prayer by a graduation speaker is permitted, but school district personnel on stage may not stand during the student prayer. The settlement also bars school teachers and administrators during school or school-sponsored activities from proselytizing, initiating prayers or joining students in prayer. Officials will not display religious symbols or quotations in school. No prayer will be included at football games, scholarship ceremonies or award banquets. The District will disclaim sponsorship of student speeches at games and activities. The school district will offer annual training for personnel as to student rights and will include information in the student handbook on the issue of religion in schools.

The court's Order approving the settlement (full text) reflected Judge Biery's idiosyncratic style.  The judge not only added an Appendix captioned An Ironic Venue for Separation of Church and State Litigation, but also added a "Personal Statement" to the Order. The Statement reads:
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 someday be answered, as inevitably 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.
The San Antonio Express-News reports on these developments.