First Amendment controversy brews over Texas high school’s prayer room
Mar 19, 2017
A Texas high school’s on-site prayer room — which serves as a spot where Muslim students can pray — is stirring controversy.
Liberty High School in Frisco established the room in 2009, but Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is concerned that the room may be off-limits to students of other religious denominations.
He said in a letter Friday to the school district that any exclusion would be inconsistent with the First Amendment’s protection of religious liberty.
A school district spokesman responded that the classroom is available to “students of all walks of life” in the afternoon when it is vacant.
The leader of a large Baptist church in Dallas told “Fox & Friends” Sunday that he is okay with the practice.
“I believe as long as students had equal access to the room it’s not a First Amendment issue,” Pastor Robert Jeffress said. “I believe we really as conservatives need to be careful that we don’t pervert the First Amendment like liberals do to use it for their own agenda.”
Muslim-American Mustafa Tameez, a Democratic political consultant, told “Fox & Friends” that Paxton is trying to create a controversy where one doesn’t exist.
“In airports we have a chapel where people can go pray,” he said. “So it’s not necessarily just for Muslim students. It’s for anybody, anybody of faith that wants to use a room to communicate with their creator.”
Supreme Court Rulings on
School Prayer & Bible Reading
There are three landmark cases that changed the meaning of the First Amendment as it was previously understood and practiced in America. In these three cases a parent of a child in school petitioned the courts to stop the school from exposing their child to prayer in school and reading the Bible in school. ACLU Lawyers used Thomas Jefferson’s letter in the argument for the plaintiffs. They argued that the founding fathers wanted a “wall of separation between church and State”; therefore, the government should be neutral to religion in schools, and as a result the Warren Court ruled that their would be no prayer in school or Bible reading. The court’s “majority ruling” reasoned that being neutral or not favoring one religion over another was the same as not allowing religious practices in school. To learn more about Prayer in School Court cases click here .
Justice Potter Stewart, the one dissenting vote blasted the ruling saying, “It led not to true neutrality with respect to religion, but to the establishment of a religion of secularism.”
Secularization (sec’u*lar*i*za’tion), n. 1. the social or political process of rejecting all forms of religious faith. 2. the elimination of any religious elements with-in public education and other civic institutions.
True neutrality would not favor one religion over another, but the court’s ruling favored atheism over all the religions of the world that believe in God. Atheism has been declared a religion by the U.S. Supreme Court, so the Court did not act neutrality, but instead favoried one religion over another. A recent national poll indicated 85% of Americans believe in the existence of God, yet the court ruled with the minority, atheist. If the Court had really been true to its intention of neutrality ; it would have been impartial to the students, by neither forcing non believers to pray, nor prohibiting believers from prayer. The court’s actions were not neutral .
After the June 17, 1963 ruling the Wall Street Journal commented that atheism was now “the one belief to which the state’s power will extend its protection.”
Supreme Court Ruling on Prayer in Public Schools: 5 Facts About Historic Cases
A century ago, teachers and administrators in American classrooms used to lead students in prayer. While it was an accepted practice, it was not without controversy. Many thought offering the opportunity for children of other faiths to silently opt out of the exercise was inclusive enough, however a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on prayer in public schools said it was unconstitutional.
Here are five other facts about historic school prayer cases.
1. The first time Bible reading was ruled unconstitutional was in 1890: A group of Roman Catholic parents decided to fight about which version of the Bible was appropriate for use in school. The Wisconsin Supreme Court said neither in the Weiss v. District Board case. The U.S. Supreme Court did not take up this case.
2. A prayer in New York caused the first U.S. Supreme Court Ruling on prayer in public schools: Even though it was the middle of the Cold War, a non-denominational, optional prayer known as The Regent’s Prayer got caught up in the 1962 case of Engle v. Vitale. This brought the first anti-prayer decision from the Supreme Court ruling on prayer in public schools. The court ruled that the school-sponsored prayer violated the establishment of religion cause in the U.S. Constitution.
3. School religious activity must pass something called the lemon test: This test came out of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of Lemon v. Kurtzman. In the 1971 case, the court ruled that a three-pronged test has to be passed for religious involvement in public schools. Is there secular purpose for the activity? Does the activity actively promote religion or inhibit religion? Is the “entanglement” between church and state “excessive?”
4. The Supreme Court put two cases together to rule against the Lord’s Prayer and the Bible: The School District of Abington Township v. Schempp and Murray v. Curlett were heard in 1963. The Supreme Court ruled that teachers were not allowed to lead prayer or Bible readings even if the activity is optional.
5. Despite all the restrictions, teachers and students CAN pray in school: The prayer must be voluntary, and cannot give any impression that the school administration is organizing or directing it. While the Supreme Court ruling on prayer in schools became even wider in the 2000 case of Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, it also opened up room for individuals to express themselves. There are many circumstances in which students are allowed to pray at school or on school grounds. They have equal rights to religious activity in the same manner of any club. Teachers may participate in a volunteer manner as long as it is clear the participation is not part of their official capacity as a teacher.