Some people who advocate coercive school prayer are relentless. They’re always coming up with a new scheme to impose their preferred form of worship onto impressionable public school students.
Sometimes they even try to use children to spread religious messages in schools. Yesterday, a federal appeals court put the brakes on this latest effort to compel prayer in schools.
The case involved a student, identified in court papers as A.M., who wanted to close her middle school graduation speech with a prayer taken from the Old Testament Book of Numbers. The passage, Numbers 6:24-26, is often called the Priestly Benediction.
Officials at the Taconic Hills Central School District in Crayville, N.Y., declined to allow the girl to recite the passage, so her family lined up help from a small Religious Right-oriented law firm in Florida and sued. A federal district court rejected the suit, and now the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed.
When the A.M. v. Taconic Hills Central School District case reached the appeals court, attorneys with Americans United filed a friend-of-the-court brief, siding with school officials. At that time, Americans United Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser pointed out what was really going on here.
“The Religious Right is trying to use students to circumvent court rulings that have prohibited clergy and school employees from leading prayers at public school events,” Luchenitser, who drafted AU’s brief, said in a media statement. “We are asking the court to put an end to such efforts. Evangelization of captive student audiences does not belong in the public schools.”
AU’s brief pointed out that the federal courts have ruled repeatedly that the Constitution prohibits public schools from sponsoring or promoting prayer and other acts of worship. Because public schools serve children from diverse backgrounds, AU asserted, the institutions must remain neutral on matters of theology.