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.
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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.