Judge Slams Critics Of Texas School Prayer Ruling

SAN ANTONIO (AP) – A federal judge who was vilified by Republican presidential hopefuls for banning prayer at a Texas high school graduation delivered a scathing and unusually personal response Thursday, saying those who used the case to further political goals “should be ashamed.”

In a court filing laying out the settlement terms of the prayer case, U.S. District Judge Fred Biery wrote that he forgave Christians who “venomously and vomitously” threatened his assassination, he thanked the U.S. Marshals for providing him additional security and without singling anyone out by name, offered a self-deprecating nod to those wished him the worst.

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

The unusually personal comments in a federal court order overshadowed the actual settlement. The case had been closely watched by social conservatives, and on the campaign trail, Newt Gingrich has portrayed Biery, a 1994 Clinton appointee, as the embodiment of so-called activist judges.

After winning the South Carolina primary, Gingrich singled out Biery as a “dictatorial religious bigot” for his decision in the San Antonio court case.

Under the settlement, the Medina Valley Independent School District won’t officially make prayer part of graduation ceremonies. The settlement does not, however, prohibit valedictorians or other student speakers from praying during their remarks.

Craig Wood, an attorney for the school district, said the deal forces the district to make only minor changes.

Last May, Biery granted a temporary restraining order filed by an agnostic family who claimed that traditions at their son’s graduation, including the invocation and benediction, excluded their beliefs and violated their constitutional rights.

Biery’s ruling prohibited Medina Valley seniors from asking audience members to join in prayer, bow their heads, end remarks with “amen,” or even use the word “prayer.” A federal appeals court later reversed the ban before the ceremony took place.

Being overruled didn’t prevent Biery from coming under fire. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who hadn’t yet officially announced his run for president, called Biery’s decision “reprehensible” and an “inappropriate federal encroachment into the lives of Americans.” His state’s attorney general, Greg Abbott, joined the South Texas district in helping fight the case.

Although Biery didn’t admonish any politicians by name, Perry appeared to be one of his targets.

“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 wrote.

Perry spokesman Josh Havens said in a statement that Perry is a staunch defender of the Constitution and will continue to fight for the right to freely pray. He did not address Biery’s personal remarks.

Biery began his opinion by stating that the case was not about right to pray. Instead, Biery said, the case was about whether the Constitution allows for a governmental body to promote and support a religious viewpoint not held by a minority.

Biery applauded the terms of the 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,” he wrote.

The settlement prohibits Medina Valley school district employees from joining students in prayer circles or inviting others to pray. The district is also forbidden from displaying crosses, Bible verses or any other religious paraphernalia on school grounds. Wood, however, said teachers may still keep religious icons on their desks.

Students are still allowed to deliver prayers at graduations, football games and other school events. Those moments must generically be introduced to the audience as simply “student remarks.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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One Comment

  1. There is No God says:

    When I was in school in the 60s and 70s before everyone started to enforce the no prayer rule I always felt pressured to bow my head while someone always lead a Christian type prayer. I knew several Hindu and Jewish classmates who also felt pressure to bow their heads. This country was founded on religious FREEDOM and it should remain so or we will end up like those radical Middle Eastern countries.

  2. Geffen says:

    Our founding fathers NEVER meant for prayer or any other show of religion to be removed from public places such as schools, court houses, or any other government building. Yes, they meant for there to be religious freedom, which means you don’t have to bow your head or say Amen. And if Jew or Hindus want to say a prayer of theirs as well, I won’t be offended, I am not that weak minded to think that it is undermining my religion for someone else to show theirs. I am also not such a weak parent at home that I can’t explain to my child why there are different religions and why we believe they way we do and I understand that when he is older, he might make choices in religion that will be different from mine. It is a push from the far left bleeding heart libs that think the majority rights should be stomped on so that we all are the exact same. This is just anoth Clinton era judge who thinks its his job to make laws not interpret laws.

    1. LJ says:

      So you wouldn’t mind if your was coerced by the principal and staff to say a Jewish prayer, or a Buddhist chant, or a Muslim prayer at school?

      1. LJ says:

        Your kid.

      2. Geffen says:

        Please, in today’s era no one is being “coerced” to say any prayers. But I would expect my child to be respectful and reverent during the prayer even if it is not his prayer. Closing his eyes and showing that respect isn’t participating, it is showing respect for others believes. If you do have a case of a child being coerced to really participate, not just be quite and respectful during it, than the staff member should be dismissed immediately. I had a Jewish friend in school growing up in a time when we still made Christmas trees in school and called them that, we even had “Christmas Holiday” not “Winter Break”. No one made her participate. She made other items while we cut out Christmas Trees and Wreaths. No one made fun or her or made her feel inferior, no one made her participate, she worked on her project right next to us and somehow we all got along.

  3. Vibius says:

    Dear FBI,

    Please start treating christian threats of terrorism against judges in the same light that you treat islamic threats against comedians. How many people have to blown up or shot as they are leaving chruch before you take this extremism seriously?

    1. Geffen says:

      Really, if this was back in the time of the Crusades you would have a good point, a dark time indeed for Christianity. I have nothing against the Islamic religion, but be serious, there are about a million Islamic Extremist that would kill you just for being American for every maybe 1 Christian extremist who MIGHT consider violence. Violence is no longer accepted in the Christian community in the US but it is accepted and supported in MANY Islamic communities.

  4. Chris says:

    The law is clear, no mixing state and religion. To be fair there should just be nothing. This is the sure fire way to not get into a hastle. Can people just do this in their head and then perform their worship later? Why does it have to be done at these moments in front of everyone? I am all about people believing and choosing all they wish, but I don’t want to be forced to do it or feel as if I don’t that I being rude or inconsiderate. It also makes you put your beliefs out there for question if you do not do what everyone else is doing.

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