Fred Biery, a Bill Clinton appointee, is a Federal District Judge down in Texas. In order to satisfy two village atheist parents of a student who contend that their 18 year old “child” will be irreparably damaged if any prayer escapes any lips during his high school commencement ceremony, Biery has banned all prayer at the high school commencement of the Medina Valley Independent School District on Saturday. This includes the Judge censoring the speech of the valedictorian of the graduating class, Angela Hildebrand, a Catholic, who wished to say a prayer in her speech.
Chief U.S. District Judge Fred Biery’s order against the Medina Valley Independent School District also forbids students from using specific religious words including “prayer” and “amen.”
The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by Christa and Danny Schultz. Their son is among those scheduled to participate in Saturday’s graduation ceremony. The judge declared that the Schultz family and their son would “suffer irreparable harm” if anyone prayed at the ceremony.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said the school district is in the process of appealing the ruling, and his office has agreed to file a brief in their support.
“Part of this goes to the very heart of the unraveling of moral values in this country,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott told Fox News Radio, saying the judge wanted to turn school administrators into “speech police.”
I’ve never seen such a restriction on speech issued by a court or the government,” Abbott told Fox News Radio. “It seems like a trampling of the First Amendment rather than protecting the First Amendment.”
Judge Biery’s ruling banned students and other speakers from using religious language in their speeches. Among the banned words or phrases are: “join in prayer,” “bow their heads,” “amen,” and “prayer.”
He also ordered the school district to remove the terms “invocation” and “benediction” from the graduation program.
“These terms shall be replaced with ‘opening remarks’ and ‘closing remarks,’” the judge’s order stated. His ruling also prohibits anyone from saying, “in [a deity’s name] we pray.”
Should a student violate the order, school district officials could find themselves in legal trouble. Judge Biery ordered that his ruling be “enforced by incarceration or other sanctions for contempt of Court if not obeyed by District official (sic) and their agents.”
The Texas attorney general called the ruling unconstitutional and a blatant attack from those who do not believe in God — “attempts by atheists and agnostics to use courts to eliminate from the public landscape any and all references to God whatsoever.”
“This is the challenge we are dealing with here,” he said. “(It’s) an ongoing attempt to purge God from the public setting while at the same time demanding from the courts an increased yielding to all things atheist and agnostic.”
Go here for a lot more background information.
In my almost 30 years at the bar I’ve seen plenty of examples of judicial arrogance and attorneys in black robes acting like tin pot dictators but this takes the cake. Threatening to punish school officials for contempt of court if students pray on their own initiative demonstrates that this judge either does not understand what is required to hold an individual in contempt of court, or, more likely, he is pursuing a policy of trying to force government officials to stamp out independent prayer, even though he realizes that his threat to hold someone in contempt for third party actions beyond their control is ludicrous. This type of behavior by judges rightfully exposes the judicial system to scorn.
How did we reach the point where judges act as censors of prayers at commencement exercises and threaten jail terms to enforce their edicts that nary a prayer be heard? This bizarre situation was caused by a 5-4 US Supreme Court decision, Lee v. Weisman, 505 US 577 (1992), where Justice Kennedy, one of the worst justices in the history of the Court when it comes to having a basic understanding of the judicial function, joined the liberals on the Court in banning commencement prayers. Justice Scalia’s dissent was brilliant and began with this memorable paragraph:
In holding that the Establishment Clause prohibits invocations and benedictions at public school graduation ceremonies, the Court — with nary a mention that it is doing so — lays waste a tradition that is as old as public school graduation ceremonies themselves, and that is a component of an even more longstanding American tradition of nonsectarian prayer to God at public celebrations generally. As its instrument of destruction, the bulldozer of its social engineering, the Court invents a boundless, and boundlessly manipulable, test of psychological coercion, which promises to do for the Establishment Clause what the Durham rule did for the insanity defense. See Durham v. United States, 94 U. S. App. D. C. 228, 214 F. 2d 862 (1954). Today’s opinion shows more forcefully than volumes of argumentation why our Nation’s protection, that fortress which is our Constitution, cannot possibly rest upon the changeable philosophical predilections of the Justices of this Court, but must have deep foundations in the historic practices of our people.
The crazy aspects of this situation are readily apparent. In order to avoid coerced religious observance, a brief prayer at commencement is banned by a government official, a judge. The right of the free exercise of religon of students and teachers is taken away temporarily by this same government official. The right of free speech of students and teachers is taken away temporarily by the same government official. In order to ban references to God to satisfy atheist sensibilities, the First Amendment is turned on its head, and a judge is transformed into a religion and speech censor. One can easily imagine what the Founding Fathers would have thought of this abysmal folly. I hope students and teachers will treat the Judge’s edict with the respect it deserves, and exercise their God given right, as specified in the Declaration of Independence, to liberty at their commencement. Such disobedience of a misbegotten attempt to restrain freedom would be a valuable educational experience for all involved, perhaps even for Fred Biery.