The students and administrators at Bastrop High School have spoken: they clearly don’t care about the Constitution, following the law or respecting the religious freedom rights of those with different belief systems.
You may recall a blog I did last week reporting on a Louisiana high school senior Damon Fowler. He had been ostracized by school officials and his classmates after he requested that official prayer not be part of this year’s graduation ceremony.
The school has a longstanding tradition of violating the First Amendment rights of students by scheduling official prayer at commencement. Due to Damon’s request, and in order to keep within the law, Bastrop school officials claimed they would advise student speakers to observe a moment of silence instead.
But despite the principal’s assurance that she notified students to make this change, nothing was different at Friday’s graduation ceremony. Student Laci Rae Mattice ignored the law – and common courtesy – and led the audience and her fellow classmates in the Lord’s Prayer.
“I want to ask for the Lord’s blessings upon us,” Mattice said. She received a loud applause from the audience.
At rehearsal the night prior to graduation, another senior, Sarah Barlow, led students in official prayer, too. For this, she also received resounding cheers.
“I was initially chosen to deliver the invocation but I was recently informed that I would be leading the moment of silence,” Barlow said. “However, before I fulfill my obligation, I would like to say that I am of the Christian faith and I respect those who do not share the same beliefs as I do. But at this time, I would like to give thanks to the God that has made the class of 2011 a great success. For those who share the in the same beliefs as I do, may I ask that you please bow your heads as I pray.”
That hardly sounds like respecting “those who do not share the same beliefs.”
But that’s how most of Bastrop operates. Instead of actually considering how it must feel to be in Damon’s shoes, they attacked him and deliberately went out of their way to be mean. The students speaking at graduation didn’t like Damon’s beliefs about religion, so they offered a sectarian prayer to publicly let him know that he was not welcome.
It’s plain rotten.
This episode richly demonstrates why we need the separation of church and state. The majority DOES NOT rule when it comes to matters of faith. The Constitution guarantees that all of us are free to follow our own consciences when it comes to participation in worship. The government should stay out of that decision.
If Bastrop school officials had obeyed the Constitution from the start and refused to favor religion over non-religion, this would never have been an issue. Students would have learned that they have the right to believe as they choose, but that they can’t use school channels to impose those beliefs on others – even if those beliefs are in the majority.
Sadly, Damon isn’t alone in being made to feel like a second-class citizen by his high school. This happens in other communities across America where local officials cater to the whims of the majority and impose religious values on their students.
What happened last week in Bastrop is a perfect example of why it’s time for them to stop.
Damon graduated on Friday, and his stand on behalf of the Constitution showed courage and principle. He should be proud of his actions. We salute him.