5th Circuit Lets Texans Pray at H.S. Graduation

     (CN) – A high school in south-central Texas included prayer at its graduation ceremony this past weekend after the 5th Circuit threw out a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction issued by a federal judge.

     An agnostic student, identified as C.S., sued the Medina Valley Independent School District on May 26 through his parents, Christa and Danny Schultz, and older brother, Trevor Schultz, an alumnus of the school.
     The Schultzes hoped to prevent the inclusion of a benediction, invocation or any other form of school-sponsored prayer at Medina Valley High School’s June 4 graduation ceremony and any subsequent school events.
     “The graduation prayers are presented in a school environment that is characterized by pervasive religiosity,” the family said in their 11-page complaint, adding that Medina Valley High School has historically included religious messages at previous graduations, at football games, during morning announcements, and in correspondence and conversations between staff members and students. The Schultzes claimed a prayer at graduation would violate their First Amendment rights.
     Within a week, U.S. District Judge Fred Biery in San Antonio had granted an injunction, ordering the school district to eliminate the benediction and invocation from the event and prevent student speakers from engaging the audience in prayer.
     But one day before the graduation ceremony, the New Orleans-based federal appeals court tossed the injunction, which the appellate judges noted was hastily issued based on a developing record.
     “On this incomplete record at this preliminary injunction stage of the case, we are not persuaded that plaintiffs have shown that they are substantially likely to prevail on the merits, particularly on the issue that the individual prayers or other remarks to be given by students at graduation are, in fact, school-sponsored,” according to the three-judge panel’s unsigned decision.
     Judges W. Eugene Davis, Jerry Smith and Leslie Southwick remanded the case to the District Court for any future proceedings.
     Included in the appeal was a motion for relief from class valedictorian, Angela Hildenbrand, which the appeals panel ruled moot.
     The Americans United for Separation of Church and State assisted the Schultzes with their case.

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