Americans United for Separation of Church and State on Thursday filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Medina Valley Independent School District in Castroville, Texas, over the district’s plans to include official prayer during its June 4 graduation ceremony.
The lawsuit was filed after officials with the district refused to remove a student-led invocation and benediction from the upcoming ceremony. Americans United argues that the district is in clear violation of Supreme Court rulings and is seeking emergency relief.
“Public schools can’t require students to take part in religious worship as the price of attending their graduation,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “This is settled law, and the district needs to stop resisting it.”
Americans United filed the lawsuit on behalf of Christa and Danny Schultz, who have two children in the district, including a son who is scheduled to graduate this year. Members of the Schultz family are agnostics and do not believe official prayers should be part of a school-sponsored event. The son has indicated he may not attend the graduation ceremony if prayers are included.
In October of 2010, Americans United wrote to officials in the district and urged them to stop sponsoring religious worship during school events. District officials ignored the letter.
The lawsuit requests a temporary restraining order barring the district from sponsoring prayers during graduation and a permanent injunction barring prayer at future school events.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1992 in the case Lee v. Weisman that public schools may not impose prayer and religious worship onto students and their families during commencement ceremonies. In 2000, the high court ruled against “student-led” and “student-initiated” prayers before public school football games in a case from Texas called Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe.
Asserts AU’s lawsuit, “Christa and Danny Schultz…object to, and are offended by, the District’s graduation prayers because their minor son C.S., who is scheduled to graduate this year from Medina Valley High School, has said that he may not attend the graduation ceremony if prayers remain a part of the ceremonies. Accordingly, if the prayers are not enjoined, Christa and Danny Schultz may be deprived of the opportunity to attend, and join in the celebration of, their son’s graduation ceremony.
The lawsuit, Schultz v. Medina Valley Independent School District, was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan is overseeing the case, assisted by AU Senior Litigation Counsel Alex J. Luchenitser. The local counsel is Donald H. Flanary III of Goldstein, Goldstein & Hilley in San Antonio.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.