Friday, June 01, 2012

Atheist Valedictorian in Texas Forces High School to Remove Graduation Prayers

From Patheos, courtesy of yet another facebook friend:

Mark Reyes is the valedictorian at Poteet High School in Texas and his graduation ceremony is Friday night.

He’s also an atheist. And thanks to his activism, the school will be getting rid of a nearly-100-year-old tradition of reciting invocations and benedictions at the ceremony:

Poteet Independent School District Superintendent Andy Castillo announced Tuesday that due to legal problems the words “Invocation” and “Benediction” will be removed from the commencement program of their Friday night graduation ceremony. The words “Opening Remarks” and “Closing Remarks” will replace “Invocation” and “Benediction”.

The substitution comes after the school district received a complaint from a person representing Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “After receiving this information last week, we have been working with our attorneys to avoid legal problems,” said Poteet Superintendent Andy Castillo.
More here.

You know, this stuff isn't really difficult, nor is it even offensive to religious sensibilities if you think about it for, like, two seconds. In the 1960s, the US Supreme Court ruled, twice, that public schools, being an arm of the government, cannot mandate or lead students in prayer. The Court did not ban prayer; rather, it simply brought educational practice in line with the Constitution--remember, the first amendment plainly states that the government shall not establish an official religion; therefore, government entities cannot require people to pray. Simple.

But schools have been fucking it up ever since. When they're not overcompensating in more liberal states by banning all prayer, including the Constitutionally protected actual voluntary variety, they're trying to sneak around the Constitution in conservative states by calling mandated prayers "voluntary."

That's exactly what happened with my high school graduation back in the day in Texas. As Senior Class President, I was privy to the planning. The "voluntary" prayer was introduced to those of us participating in the ceremony with a statement along these lines: "And after Ron has finished speaking, that's when you'll be giving the invocation. Okay? Good." So there was no "volunteering." None of the students were like, "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if we had an opening prayer?" It was just a teacher telling us that the prayer would be at such and such a point during the ceremony. Sure, nobody objected, but that's just not the same thing as "voluntary." Indeed, when you have just spent the last thirteen years of your life deferring to school authority, and then that authority is telling you this is what is going to happen during the last hour you are under such authority, disobedience is the last thing on your mind.

So they call it "voluntary," but it's really state mandated prayer, even though everybody pretends it's not.

And it's not easy speaking out against this kind of thing, especially if you're a teenager, especially if you live in a heavily religious state like Texas. It wasn't much of a problem for me, personally, because I still considered myself to be a Christian back in those days, so, even though I fully understood the whole wink and nod thing going on, I went with the flow. But this guy at Poteet High School is something else: he's got balls, big huge fucking balls. He did the right thing.

Because, really, this isn't just for people who aren't Christians--indeed, it's laughable to even entertain for a microsecond the notion that atheists and Muslims and Jews have their own Constitutional amendment, the first fucking one, in fact. No, this is about keeping religion out of government, and that benefits all of us, whatever our religious views are.

Think about it this way: imagine Romney becoming President and then forcing Mormon views and values on us. Yeah, that's when fundamentalists suddenly decide that school prayer sucks.