Friday, February 3, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Federal Judge in Texas Lashes Gingrich Saying He Should Be Ashamed of His Demagoguery

(CN) - A federal judge who enjoined school prayer and was attacked as "un-American" has fired back at the politicians, saying, "You should be ashamed of yourselves."

After whom Newt Gingrich bashed him as "un-American," Fred Biery, chief U.S. District Judge in San Antonio, wrote in a settlement order, "To those in the executive and legislative branches of government who have demagogued this case for their own political goals: You should be ashamed of yourselves."

Biery granted a temporary restraining order requested in May 2011 by an agnostic family who said prayers at their son's graduation violated their First Amendment rights. Christa and Danny Scholt's son was a Medina Valley High School senior in the Medina Valley Independent School District.

Biery's order would have eliminated the benediction and invocation from the event, and prevented student speakers from engaging the audience in prayer. But on the eve of the ceremony, the 5th Circuit threw out the injunction on appeal, calling it hastily issued based on an ever-changing 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," the three-judge panel ruled.

In his Feb. 9 Opinion and Order settling a complaint against the Medina Valley Independent School District, Biery added an unusual "Personal Statement." He expressed gratitude to the parents, students and school district for reaching a settlement.

"The settlement memorialized in today's Order signifies a bright point in our nation's long and difficult effort to harmonize the competing interests written into the First Amendment," Biery wrote. "Although this pursuit is far from over, 'let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice' ... All things work together for good."

Biery also thanked federal marshals and local police who provided him with security while he was under unwanted national scrutiny.

In his brief, 3-page order, Biery wrote:

"What This Case Has Not Been About

"The right to pray.

"Any American can pray, silently or verbally, seven days a week, twenty four hours a day, in private as Jesus taught or in large public events as Mohammed instructed.

"The Real Issue

"Does the United States Constitution allow a government entity elected by the majority to use its power to tax and its agents and employees to support and promote a particular religious viewpoint not held by a minority?" (Footnotes omitted.)

After signing his name to the final judgment and order, Biery appended "A Personal Statement.

"During the course of this litigation, many have played a part:

"To the United States Marshal Service and local police who have provided heightened security: Thank you.

"To those Christians who have venomously and vomitously cursed the Court family and threatened bodily harm and assassination: In His name, I forgive you.

"To those who have prayed for my death: Your prayers will someday be answered, as inevitably trumps probability.

"To those in the executive and legislative branches of government who have demagogued this case for their own political goals: You should be ashamed of yourselves.

"To the lawyers who have advocated professionally and respectfully for their clients' respective positions: Bless you."

Biery then signed the order again.

At a Tea Party forum in September 2011, Gingrich said that he would "eliminate Judge Biery in San Antonio, and the 9th Circuit," if he were elected, according to contemporary press reports.

Gingrich called Biery "tyrannical" and "un-American" at the forum, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

The attack stirred up a hornet's nest in Texas.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.