Judge Rules Government Cannot Control Prayer…Twice
Many have now heard of the Texas High School graduation that received a court-ordered ban on prayer, including the specific words “amen, invocation,” and the like. U.S. District Judge Fred Biery had ruled against the Medina Valley Independent School District in a lawsuit brought by the Schultz family. Biery had determined they would “suffer irreparable harm” if they heard to a prayer at the ceremony. The ruling was appealed, overturned, and the graduation went on as a celebration of freedom of speech and religion.
That wasn’t the first controversial ruling on prayer in Texas.
In a ruling that was largely under the radar, Texas Judge Lynn N. Hughes said the Department of Veteran’s Affairs could not control the content of an invited Pastor’s prayer. The Reverend Scott Rainey, pastor at Living Word Church of the Nazerene, had been invited to give an invocation at a Memorial Day event, and was asked to provide an early copy of his prayer. His submission included his closing in “Jesus’ name,” as the Pastor has prayed for the prior two years.
[Arleen] Ocasio [director of the cemetery] told [Rainey] that if he didn’t change the prayer, he would not be allowed to deliver the Memorial Day remarks, Rainey said in his lawsuit against Ocasio. But it was a private event, and court papers pointed out that the department only objected to the parts of the speech deemed too religious.
Rainey then pleaded his case to the office of the secretary of Veteran Affairs, but the department told Rainey that the cemetery’s policy was “viewpoint-neutral” and “appropriate,” according to court papers.
Rainey apparently sued, and won.
Judge Lynn N. Hughes sided with Rainey, ruling that censorship and religious discrimination violate the First Amendment.
“The government does not have the right to write its peoples’ prayers,” Kelly Shackelford, the CEO of the Liberty Institute [which] defended the pastor in this case.
The topic is very relevant, as critics often demand the content of US military Chaplains’ prayers be controlled by military leadership (so as to be “inclusive”). While a ruling of this nature would never apply directly to a military setting, its logic is sound and similar.
In both the graduation and memorial ceremonies, the courts ruled free speech and religious freedom trumped the heckler’s veto and a concern about “feelings.”