I really just joined to share this information with you. I actually live in California, but my roommate is from Texas and he flew home to attend his daughter's graduation tonight.
He texted me this morning that the graduation ceremony includes a prayer and there's lots of hymns and praise music being played during the ceremony.
I was shocked! So he got up the nerve to ask the superintendent about it and he told him that as long as a student leads the prayer, it's ok.
So I looked up some laws on google and I don't think he's right. So I wrote to the local Longview paper and 3 of the news stations, although I don't expect to hear back from them. Here's what I said:
Hi, writing from California. I was just talking to a friend who has a child graduating from Hallsville High School today. He said that there will be a student prayer and that they will be playing praise songs and hymns during the ceremony. It’s my understanding that the Superintendent said that if a student leads the prayer it’s ok. (see below)
I believe this kind of activity in a public school is against the law, is it not? Doesn't the Education Code 25.901 say that a student only has a right to "individually, voluntarily, and silently pray or meditate in a nondisruptive manner?" According to this page which talks about "Public Prayer in Public Schools Laws" it says,
The federal and state governments are prevented from endorsing or opposing any religion, or no religion at all. Because public schools are government entities, this means that they are not allowed to favor or oppose religion as well. Part of this prohibition includes forcing students to engage in a public prayer . The school-sanctioned prayer does not have to be aligned with any religion to be impermissible, because forcing an atheist student to pray violates his or her First Amendment rights.
If you read the “Overview of Governing Constitutional Principles,” it says, "Accordingly, the First Amendment forbids religious activity that is sponsored by the government but protects religious activity that is initiated by private individuals, and the line between government-sponsored and privately initiated religious expression is vital to a proper understanding of the First Amendment's scope.
A student leading the prayer doesn’t mean that the school didn’t sponsor it. And what about students from other religions that have to participate at their graduation with these likely “Christian” traditions going on around them?
Why is this archaic and insensitive behavior still happening in Texas public schools?
Thanks for posting this. You might find this link to be of interest, from the excellent FFRF. The biggest part of the problem is that Christians consider any attempts to remove religious privilege to be a form of Christian persecution. They want “Religious Freedom” and just do not get it that it is legalized discrimination.
There is much worse happening within the Texas education system. I was fortunate enough to have a discussion with AronRa about it last year. He is fighting against the teaching of Creationism to school children and it is not an easy task. Hopefully he will be in a better position soon to do something about it.