Judge Orders TX School District to Apologize to Agnostic Family in Prayer Spat
Corwyn Schultz, an agnostic and a former high school student in the Medina Valley Independent School District, took a stand against what he and his family saw as illegal and coercive graduation prayers last year. While a judge initially issued a restraining order that rendered the prayers an impossibility, a higher court overturned this decision.
The legal battle, which was handled by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, finally came to a close — or so it seemed — last month when the parties reached a settlement. But, alas, new drama seems to be unfolding.
Here’s a June 2011 CNN interview with the Schultz family that provides more information on the case:
On Monday, Chief U.S. District Judge Fred Biery issued an order that requires the district’s Superintendent James Stansberry and high school band director Keith Riley to apologize to Schultz’s family for allegedly disparaging comments that were made about the case.
These statements, which were reportedly posted on social media and uttered on television, were made after the family decided to sue the district over the inclusion of school prayer. Chron.com has more about the dilemma:
The comments apparently violated a settlement, reached in February, in which the district agreed administrators and other employees will not pray with students, elicit prayer, proselytize or display religious artifacts in the classroom (except jewelry). The deal also includes a clause in which the district agreed its employees will not disparage the plaintiffs.
Organized prayer is allowed under the settlement, but commencement programs will have a disclaimer saying the statements made by students are their own and not an endorsement by the district.
Here is a Nov. 2011 video from a luncheon held by Americans United to honor Schultz for his actions against the district:
Following the announcement that the deal had been reached, Stansberry apparently went on a television interview and called the lawsuit a “witch hunt.” Additionally, he claimed that the family “wanted our teachers to stop wearing crosses.” This latter statement was apparently untrue, as religious jewelry was explicitly permitted in the settlement.
Riley, too, was accused of inappropriately commenting about the incident. On Facebook, he allegedly posted a comment that read, “don’t get me started on the lies and false accusations,” referring to Shultz and his family. The judge’s order also claimed that Riley “liked” a comment from another recent graduate that said, ”There should be a disclaimer after a prayer that says: ‘No atheists or anti-religious-activists were harmed in the recitation of this prayer.’”
The punishment for these offenses? Biery has ordered district employees to sign a statement of apology within the next 10 days. Additionally, he is requiring the agnostic family to sign a statement, too, saying that they accept.
“The court does not expect the parties to hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya’ around a campfire beside the Medina River,” the judge wrote. “Nor does the court expect the respondents to engage in a public spectacle of self-flagellation for communicating words better left unsaid.” Biery continued:
“Moreover, the court does not expect plaintiffs to become Traditional Christians, though the court suggests plaintiffs might follow the moral and civility lessons of Matthew 5:39 (‘if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also’) and a portion of ‘Essay on Criticism’ (‘to err is human; to forgive, divine’).”
The school currently has no comment on the matter.
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