Saturday, October 4, 2008

ACLU and School Prayer - Pennsylvania

In May, 2005, the ACLU filed a (successful) lawsuit against the Keystone School District in Clarion County, PA, to force them to stop using prayer to open school board meetings and at graduation ceremonies. According to the ACLU's Website:

"When public schools reserve time at a graduation ceremony for prayers, they put the power, prestige and endorsement of the state behind whatever prayer is offered," said ACLU of Pennsylvania Legal Director Witold Walczak, who is representing families who have asked to remain anonymous because of fears for their physical safety. "Officially sponsored prayers make students and invited guests who subscribe to different beliefs and recite different prayers, or no prayers at all, feel like outcasts or second-class citizens."

If this were an argument by a citizen appealing to the common sense of the school board, it is logical. But when you take it to court based on the First Amendment, it is stretching a point. The First Amendment says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." Then the 14th Amendment carried people's rights from the Constitution to the states as well. But in PA this was not a law establishing a religion. It was a practice or a tradition. This is a long way from a state law establishing religion. The Constitution certainly does not guarantee that public actions shall not make someone feel like an outcast or second-class citizen. Otherwise, it could be argued in court that it is unconstitutional to elect a president or any other office holder without unanimous consent.

As I have said before in this venue, the Constitution was very carefully worded by literate men. If they wanted to prohibit a practice that involved religion they would have said so. But the second part of the quoted First Amendment clause above is "...[Congress shall make no law] prohibiting the the free exercise thereof;" If this case involves the First Amendment at all, then it seems to me that stopping the school board in court seems much more like a violation of the second clause than an enforcement of the first.

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