Texas Governor Rick Perry on Friday criticized a federal judge’s decision to ban prayer at a high school graduation ceremony, calling the ruling “reprehensible.”
U.S. District Judge Fred Biery ruled on Tuesday that the Medina Valley School District’s graduation ceremonies cannot have an invocation or benediction. Also, while individuals can express their religious beliefs, they are prohibited from calling the crowd to pray or deliver a message that can be considered a prayer.
Perry and opponents of the judge’s ruling argue that the ban violates students’ First Amendment rights to freely express their religious beliefs. The Texas governor even pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court has maintained that the U.S. Congress can begin every day with prayer.
The Texas governor appears to be a fan of prayer. He declared a statewide three-day period of prayer for rain in April when major wildfire threatened thousands of homes and consumed millions of acres of land following severe drought.
“This reprehensible action taken by a federal judge underscores the increasingly inappropriate federal encroachment into the lives of Americans by unconstitutionally banning prayer at a Texas high school graduation,” said Perry in a statement.
“I fully support Attorney General Abbott’s efforts to defend the right to pray, and Texas will continue to stand behind all those who wish to pray in our state.”
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has filed an emergency appeal at the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in support of allowing prayers at graduation ceremonies in the Medina Valley School District. And on Thursday, Dallas-based Liberty Institute filed a lawsuit on behalf of Angela Hildenbrand, the valedictorian of Medina Valley High School in Castroville, Texas, asking the 5th Circuit Court to overturn Judge Biery’s ruling before the school’s commencement ceremony on Saturday.
“I had hoped to use prayer during my speech to thank God, to encourage my peers and to pray for all those in my community affected by this case,” said Hildenbrand during a press conference in front of the Alamo in San Antonio on Thursday. “After all that I’ve been taught about the freedoms of speech, expression and religion in our country, I am disappointed that my liberties are being infringed upon by this court’s ruling to censor my speech.”
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Agnostic parents Christa and Danny Schultz are behind the graduation prayer ban. Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Schultzes to prevent prayers at their son’s high school graduation. Their son said he might not attend his graduation if other students are allowed to pray during the event.
The Medina Valley Independent School District also appealed the ruling on Thursday, seeking an emergency order to overturn the ban by Saturday’s commencement.