Houston County school chief made the right decision

May 5, 2013 

Robin Hines, superintendent of Houston County schools, is drawing fire for doing his job and following the law. He made the decision, not in a vacuum, that the mistakes of past graduations will not reoccur.

Last year following graduation, the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation threatened to sue the system because of the graduation ceremonies’ religious content.

While it may appear Hines is bending to the will of a small group of people who took offense, the fact is, the system cannot sponsor, as it did last year, religious content.

The controversy over school-sponsored prayer is not new. The U.S. Supreme Court first ruled against school-sponsored prayer 51 years ago in Engel v. Vitale. The high court ruled 6-1 (the one dissenting vote wasn’t a dissent at all. Justice Felix Frankfurter had a stroke forcing his retirement) that school-sponsored prayer violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The court has maintained that stance in several other cases involving school-sponsored religious activities that have come before it. The cases most remembered were the 1992 Lee v. Weisman ruling where the court outlawed clergy-led prayer at high school graduation ceremonies and the 2000 ruling in Santa Fe ISD v. Doe where the court banned school-organized prayer at high school football games, even if students delivered the prayer.

It is a common misnomer and an oft-used complaint that the court removed prayer from school. It did not. Students, we are sure, send prayers up before every test or athletic event -- but when a school sponsors that, be it at graduations or football games, it crosses the line.

As Hines told The Telegraph, the school system doesn’t have a choice. It’s prudent to follow the law and not incur legal expenses defending a well-adjudicated issue. Hines is correct to look beyond the emotions for the good of the system.

We are a pluralistic society with many faiths and beliefs. Parents want their children indoctrinated in their family’s faith. That faith is not always Christianity. After all, it’s a parent’s job to teach their children in their religious tradition, not the school’s.

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