05-31-2011, 10:56 AM
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Damon Fowler, Highschool Graduation Prayer and the First Ammendment
Although this was 10 days ago, I only took knowledge of it now.
The 2011 senior class of Bastrop High School may recall their commencement as the "ACLU graduation" in the years to come.
At Ram Stadium on Friday night, 242 graduates received their diplomas amid slight controversy.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana urged Stacey Pullen, principal of Bastrop High School, to respect the First Amendment and ensure Friday night's graduation did not include a prayer as originally proposed.
Senior Damon Fowler had reportedly objected to the planned prayer and informed the Morehouse Parish School Board about his objection, saying it violated his right to a ceremony free of government-endorsed religion. After he complained to school authorities — and said he would contact the ACLU if necessary — school officials reportedly removed the prayer from the
However, during the event, fellow senior Laci Rae Mattice called for a moment of silence but expressed her opinion first.
"I want to ask for the Lord's blessings upon us," Mattice said, followed by cheers and applause from the audience. She then led the audience in the Lord's Prayer, "if they wanted to."
Pullen said Mattice was instructed not to mention anything about religion and only observe the moment of silence. She said she was unsure if the ACLU or Fowler would seek legal action against the school.
Morehouse Parish Superintendent Tom Thrower, who attended the event, had little to say on the matter.
"It speaks for itself," Thrower said.
In amending the program, school officials suggested that Fowler, and other students who object to school-sponsored prayer, should respect the majority of their classmates, according to a statement from the ACLU.
"The First Amendment prohibition on government endorsement of religion exists to protect the minority from the majority," said Marjorie R. Esman, ACLU of Louisiana executive director. "Freedom of religion belongs to everyone, not just those whose views may be more popular than others."
At the Thursday night rehearsal for the graduation, another senior, Sarah Barlow, said a prayer with reference to Jesus Christ. The prayer was listed in the graduation program, which had to be reprinted at taxpayer expense.
"Taxpayers should not have to spend money fixing problems caused by violations of the law," Esman said. "Public school officials must remember that they have a duty to uphold the law, to protect the rights of all of their students, and that any failure to do so costs money that should be spent in the classroom. Religious freedom has flourished in this country because we do not allow the government to promote one faith over others."
This was not the first time the ACLU has threatened to get involved in events at area schools.
In 2008, former Monroe City School Board member Brenda Shelling refused to apologize for mandating a healing prayer at a back to school rally. Monroe Federation of Teachers president Sandie Lollie said at the time the federation could seek assistance from the ACLU to take legal action against Shelling.
In a similar incident, the 2007 graduating class of Ouachita Parish High School voted unanimously to honor the tradition of prayer at their commencement. The graduation climaxed weeks of tension surrounding the constitutionality of graduation prayer, a questioned raise publicly when the ACLU warned the school and its governing board that including a prayer in the ceremony could lead to legal action.
But that's not all: Damon Fowler's parents disowned him and he had to move to Texas, where his older brother lives. The Friendly Atheist site exposed the case
and is hosting a fund-raiser for the guy.
So what's your opinion on this whole ordeal?
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