Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is joining a local school district's appeal to allow a Castroville high school to hold public prayer at a Saturday graduation ceremony.
Abbott says a recent ruling banning Medina Valley High School students from calling for prayer during their commencement speeches is unconstitutional and is filing an amicus brief supporting the school district's appeal.
"The last thing these students should have done is to have ripped out from under them their ability to participate in a ceremony they've been expecting for the last four years," he said.
According a ruling by Chief U.S. District Judge Fred Biery, students and their parents will be barred from asking the audience to join in prayer or bow their heads, and from even saying the words "prayer" or "amen."
The ruling is good news for agnostics Christa and Danny Schultz.
The couple has two children in the Castroville school district where the school is located. One of those children is scheduled to graduate this weekend from Medina Valley High School. The Schultzes contend that it is illegal to include prayer in the public school graduation and have threatened to prevent their son from attending the ceremony if prayer is held.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit last week on behalf of the couple, saying the school district ignored the parents' letter of concern.
"No one's trying to remove God from anywhere. What we're trying to do is follow the law and the law says the state of Texas and the United States government can't force religion on its citizens," said Don Flanary, attorney for the Schultzes.
But the school board president, Roland Ruiz, argues that permitting students to express their religious views in school does not mean the district endorses religion.
In fact, the district printed a disclaimer in each graduation program noting the content of each student speaker's message is the private expression of the individual student and does not reflect the endorsement of the district, defended Ruiz.
Abbott says AU's lawsuit is really a challenge to the country's moral values. "Part of this [ruling] goes to the very heart of the unraveling of moral values in the country today," he asserted.