Schultz v. Medina Valley Independent School District

Last modified 2012.03.21

  • Status Closed
  • Type Counsel
  • Court U.S. Court of Appeals, U.S. District Court
  • Issues Public Schools, Teaching Religion in Public Schools

In May 2011, we learned that the Medina Valley School District in Castroville, Texas intended to sponsor at least two student-led prayers at its upcoming high-school graduation. We soon found out that school officials—including teachers, coaches, and administrators—had been promoting Christianity for years, both during the school day and at school activities and events. On May 26, 2011, we filed a lawsuit and motion for emergency relief on behalf of Christa and Danny Schultz and their two sons, Trevor and Corrie.

Within days, the federal trial court in San Antonio held a hearing and concluded that the graduation prayers violated the Establishment Clause. The school district appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, arguing that the prayers were student-initiated and not school-sponsored. In June 2011–late in the afternoon on the day before graduation–the Fifth Circuit overturned the trial court’s decision and allowed the graduation prayers to go forward.

We submitted an amended complaint in October 2011, adding new details that we learned during the discovery process. In January 2012, we filed a motion for partial summary-judgment, asking the trial court to rule that the prayers at the school district’s graduations and football games violated the Establishment Clause. The school district also filed motions to dismiss and for summary-judgment.

In February 2012, after participating in a multi-day mediation, the parties resolved the case through a comprehensive settlement agreement. The agreement, which the trial court has approved, provides for the following:

  • School-district officials will not initiate, solicit, or direct prayers; join students in prayers; proselytize; or invite others to engage in these practices.
  • School-district officials will not display crosses, religious images, religious quotations, Bibles or religious texts, or other religious icons on the walls, hallways, and other areas at school.
  • The school district will not invite speakers, including government officials or community leaders, whom it has reason to believe will proselytize or promote religious during their remarks.
  • The school-district will refrain from designating student speeches as Invocation, Benediction, or other religious terms; will cease reviewing and revising student graduation speeches in advance; and will no longer pass prior years’ speeches (which often contained prayers) to the current year’s speakers.
  • The school district will provide annual training to all school-district personnel who interact with students or who supervise those who interact with students or parents. The training will cover a variety of topics related to students’ rights, church-state separation, and the requirements of the settlement agreement.

The trial court was given jurisdiction to enforce the agreement for the next ten years. Listen to AU Senior Litigation Counsel Greg Lipper discuss the settlement.

Unfortunately, soon after the trial court approved the settlement, the School District Superintendent and the high-school’s marching-band director made certain public comments that violated the settlement’s prohibition against disparagement of the Schultz family by the School District. We promptly moved to enforce the settlement agreement. In March 2012, the trial court granted our motion and ordered the Superintendent and the band director to apologize to the Schultz family.

The case has now concluded.

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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