Friday, March 1, 2013

Okay to Ban Grad Prayer

In 2009, A.M., a student in the Taconic Hills, N.Y. School District planned to end her middle school graduation speech with a blessing.

She meant to say,

“May the Lord bless you and keep you; make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”

School officials told her that she must drop that passage from her speech.

She obeyed, and her family sued the district in federal court. They said the officials had violated the girl’s U.S. constitutional right to free speech.

In January 2012, a Second Circuit Court of Appeals panel said the officials had the right to cut A.M.’s blessing.

Because A.M. gave her speech at a school-sponsored ceremony, the district could censor it for appropriate educational reasons.

The U.S. constitutional ban on government establishment of religion gave the district an appropriate educational reason to bar the blessing.

The panel made an additional point, not strictly necessary for its result.

If a district sponsors a forum to discuss a topic from various viewpoints, it must allow religious viewpoints; but the panel did not consider A.M.’s blessing a viewpoint.

It said, “We believe that the final sentence in A.M.’s speech constituted purely religious speech.…rather than a statement offering a religiously-informed viewpoint on an otherwise secular subject matter.”

Therefore, the district could forbid the blessing.

An amicus brief from Americans United for Separation of Church and State asked the court to rule that the school district had a duty as well as a right to censor the blessing, but the court did not oblige.

The case is McKay v. Taconic Hills.

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