Monday, January 04, 2010

Prom Night in Mississippi Revisited

Back in July I did a post on the HBO special "Prom Night in Mississippi." As a sidebar I complained about the Christian prayer led by a teacher at the beginning of the prom. I got pinged on that complaint. Below is the original comment and my response. The e-mail address has been deleted to protect the individual's privacy.


A while back you commented on a posting where I was bemoaning the inclusion of a Christian prayer at a public school prom. Specifically you said:

"your only problem with this argument is that the constitution makes no provision for the government to run the schools. check the 10th amendment, buddy. An atheist, Muslim, or Scientoligist, or even Jedi parent could have raised an eyebrow and complained. But they didn't. My guess as to why? About 99% percent of the people in this rural Mississippi are practicing Christians. Not meaning to start an argument, just some musings. feel free to get back to me at xxxxxxxx Thanks!"

You are correct that the Federal Government doesn't run the schools and you are correct that the 10th Amendment delegates that responsibility to the states. However, both points are irrelevent when considering the inclusion of a Christian prayer at a public school function.

The key amendments here are the 1st and the 14th which state "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" and "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States."

The Supreme Court has been very clear that prayer at official school functions such as graduation ceremonies, athletic events, or assemblies, is absolutely forbidden if sponsored by the school, or led by a representative of the school such as a teacher, because Federal Law, and the rights of citizens of the United States, trumps state law (see Collins v. Chandler Unified School District, 1981, Jager v. Douglass County School District, 1989, Doe v. Aldine, 1982 and Lee v. Weisman, 1992). Prayers sponsored by or led by students are still an unresolved area but, at least for the moment, appear to be allowed.

So, while the states run the schools, the Constitution forbids them from running them in such a way as to "abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States."

Now, that being said, one could argue that the prom was not an "official school function" or at least an optional event rather than a mandatory event and therefore exempt. That would be skating on very thin ice in my opinion because it implies a non-Christian student must surrender a fundamental right in order to attend a school related event and that strikes me as unfair even if the event is unofficial or optional.

The problem becomes that as soon as we accept this kind of differentiation we divide the population into two different groups. A fully enfranchised group and a group that must make some sort of compromise under some circumstances.

I agree with you, and I pointed out in the post, that no one complained because probably everyone was Christian. That doesn't make it right nor does it make it any less dangerous.

Sorry for the delay in answering your comment. It was an excellent comment and I should have responded sooner.

No comments: