A Washington, D.C.-based church-state watchdog group has filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of a New York public school being sued by a student who wanted to include a religious message in her graduation ceremony.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed the amicus brief earlier this year in support of Taconic Hills Central School District, which did not allow a middle school student, identified only as "A.M.," from quoting Numbers 6:24-26 in her graduation speech.
"[I]t's my job to talk about God and see if they like it," said A.M. in the deposition.
"In God's word it says that I should – well, I was put on this earth for a purpose and my purpose was to talk about God and try to get as many people to follow Him…."
The case, A.M. ex rel. McKay v. Taconic Hills Central School District, was brought before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals where it awaits the assigning of a date for oral arguments.
Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director for Americans United, told The Christian Post that they filed the amicus brief out of concern for the rights of public school students who are captive audiences for events.
"One of our organization's goals is to protect public-school students from school-supported proselytization in the school environment," said Luchenitser.
"We were concerned that, if the Second Circuit accepted the arguments made by the student plaintiff in this case, the result would be widespread imposition of student-given prayers and proselytization upon captive audiences of students and parents at public school events."
In June 2009, A.M. was going to deliver one of the speeches at her middle school's "Moving Up Ceremony." The student wanted to conclude her remarks with the passage from Numbers 6:24-26, which reads, "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace."
In 2010, the student sued the school district, claiming that the district had violated her freedom of speech because of her religious viewpoint. The case was brought before U.S. District Judge Gary L. Sharpe, who ruled in favor of Taconic Hills.
"Students have the right to pray privately, on their own, during the school day," said Luchenitser regarding the claim of discrimination.
"But students do not have a right to impose their religious views upon captive audiences of other students and parents at public school events."
Andrew MacKie-Mason, law student and blogger at "Source 4 Politics," wrote an entry arguing that the Numbers passage that A.M. wanted to use was not an establishment of religion.
"It's undeniable that a graduation speech could be too strongly religious, in a way that would be an illegal governmental establishment of religion," wrote MacKie-Mason.
"But if the quote above is all that the girl wanted to say, I don't see how it could be construed as an establishment. Beyond being monotheistic, it is a rather generic blessing."