June 6th, 2011
04:07 PM ET

Following court ruling, Texas student prays at graduation

(CNN) - With the backing of a federal appeals court, a Texas student prayed from the podium of her high school graduation on Saturday.

"Whether you would like to join me or not, feel free to do as you see best," Angela Hildenbrand said shortly before she prayed at the Medina Valley High School graduation in Castroville, according to CNN San Antonio affiliate KSAT.

“God, I thank you for the support of the entire community through this case hearing," she said.

On Wednesday, a federal judge issued a ruling that would have banned Hildenbrand from delivering prayers at the graduation ceremony.

The ban, imposed by U.S. District Court Judge Fred Biery, caught the attention of Gov. Rick Perry and state Attorney General Greg Abbott, who supported an emergency appeal filed by the Medina Valley Independent School District on Thursday.

The original lawsuit was filed last week by an agnostic family whose son attends the school, about 30 miles west of San Antonio. The Schultz family said their son would suffer "irreparable harm" if anyone prayed at the graduation ceremony.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling on Friday, saying the family had not persuaded the three-judge panel "that the individual prayers or other remarks to be given by students at graduation are, in fact, school-sponsored."

In a statement Saturday, the Schultz family said it did not attend the graduation ceremony.

"Our family chose not to attend the ceremony this evening because we did not feel welcome at the event and we even feared for our safety in light of how hostile some of the public comments have been,” the family said in a statement released by the group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

“Graduation is a significant rite of passage for a young person,” the statement continued, “and we regret that our son will not be able to enjoy this special day with his peers.”

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Church and state • Schools • Texas

soundoff (293 Responses)
  1. dnyce

    This whole thing is so ridiculous. kids are at school to graduate. talk about the school, talk about the kids, talk about their accomplishments, salutatation/valediction....everyone gets a diploma and go out for some lunch. if people want to pray, let them pray before or after. why intentionally alienate someone? I happen to be jewish, and I went to synagogue the weekend when I graduated from high school and the rabbi made a point to congratulate and pray for the new graduates.

    again, if they wanted to have prayer, they should have scheduled it before or after the graduation as most public schools will allow this for students of any faith. but graduation is a school function and is no place for prayer of any faith. mine included.

    July 4, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • stevinp

      What's ridiculous is that someone complained in the first place. Let the child pray if she sees fit to do so. If you don't want to hear then leave or don't show up. But if you get up their with a speech about how your parents worked so hard to help you get to graduation and no one wants to hear it and they get up and leave then shut up and move on. It is her special moment. There is nothing wrong with prayer. Just a shame you can do about anything in school these days except pray. Maybe if we had a little more prayer in schools we would have a little less crime and murders.

      July 5, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  2. Arick

    I see no problem with students praying as long as it isn't initiated by the administration. Irreparable damage? What a joke. If the kid can be irreparably damaged by that, then he has much deeper problems.

    June 10, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
  3. Michael

    I don't think prayers should be allowed at graduation. I wouldn't want to listen to that at my graduation.

    June 10, 2011 at 10:37 am |
  4. Daniel James Dick

    Hats off to the courage of this student. If we do not exercise our freedom of speech and religion in the face of opposition, we will lose them to cowardice. We should be willing to die fighting for these things and if we must die, we should die leaving as deep of a mark as we can possibly make. Judges have no right to legislate. They only have power to interpret and enforce the law. And the judge who claims the right to prohibit the words "pray", "amen", "God", from someone's mouth, that judge is a liar and a coward. Judge Biery, I hope you are reading this because unless you have a darn good reason to think this is reasonable behavior on your part, you have really come across as a ignorant jerk to impose such a ruling and it speaks poorly of whoever it was who trusted you to take office. You should be hanged for treason, judge were our courts sufficiently just in regard to what you have done. I hope you will grow up, learn some integrity and learn to rule as a competent American judge should rule, but until then I hope and pray your career will be finished by whatever means God may deem appropriate as I leave it in His hands to judge. And if God's grace allows you to stay, I suggest you begin to learn from God what it means to be honest and just for the sake of the American people. Do you understand me?
    And don't be petty and vindictive and try to weasel this into some kind of back handed threat because it is none of that. It is an expression of disapproval for your bad behavior and a wish that you would stop. You should be ashamed of yourself for what you have done.

    June 10, 2011 at 2:32 am |
  5. WEES

    wow....over some bowed heads and a couple of words to our maker...

    June 9, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Sean

      I wonder what would happen if a student said, "I won't thank any god because I don't believe in them."

      June 12, 2011 at 5:09 am |
  6. sharky

    This gives me that much of a chuckle. Seriously the boy is going to have that much irreparable damage by attending the graduation and NOT praying as other did so? WOW that is one thin skinned kid and family that suffer that much that they would need extensive therapy to treat the prayer away.

    When I have said the pledge of allegiance for whatever reason, I just refrain from saying the word God, as I am not really a religious person, but I am not going to get all sue happy and proclaim mental damage because God is mentioned in some sort of patriotic speech.

    June 9, 2011 at 12:50 am |
  7. Marie Kidman


    June 8, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  8. Donny R

    How stupid are we people that we need a court order to pray in public? IMO, all parties connected to this silliness need to get a life! When I was in school I used to pray every day that the damn school day was over. I bet a lot others did too.

    June 8, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • eric calderone

      Evidently, with much of the judiciary in this country, certain individual "rights," such as the right not to be exposed to faith, are more important than an individual right to pray. The judiciary is hardly objective on certain social issues: it clearly leans in favor of atheism or agnosticism. The only way to correct it would be action by Congress, and that is unlikely to happen.

      June 8, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • DogmaAndPonyShow

      @Donny and Eric–Do you really not understand what this is about? You guys as individuals can pray anywhere and anytime you want to your vapor man until your brain hurts (although I don't know what good it would do). You can pray in silence or out loud, even wave your arms around like crazy person as fundagelicals are prone to do and none will complain. That's your "freedom of religion", but not one student at their graduation should have to feel excluded and that's exactly what public prayer at a tax payer event is doing. That's why we have the second clause in the First Amendment, the "separation" clause.

      June 9, 2011 at 12:37 am |
    • Joxer the Mighty

      You mean they shouldn't feel excluded like creationists feel excluded when being taught evolution? She even said at the beginning that everyone was free to join or not so what is the big deal?

      June 10, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  9. YANKO

    We have created a new social network for people of all faiths and religions..it is in spanish right now only, but next week will be in another languages..check it out: http://www.wpray4u.com

    June 8, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  10. Amara Win

    what's sad is that i'm sure all the boy wanted to was graduate with the rest of his friends and head to the grad kegger afterwards.

    June 8, 2011 at 6:57 am |
    • 14Mickey

      No, all the boy wanted to do was to impose his beliefs on everyone else. The person giving the prayer made it clear they had no intention of doing that. The idiot child and his parents could have taken it off campus instead of trying to destroy the graduation ceremony.

      June 8, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • DogmaAndPonyShow

      @14Mickey–The agnostic was imposing HIS views on the poor victimized Christians? You're really funny.

      June 9, 2011 at 12:42 am |
  11. The Dude


    June 7, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
  12. Marie Kidman


    June 7, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
  13. Monica

    LOL, suffer "irreparable harm" if anyone prayed at the graduation ceremony. Really? Absurd.

    June 7, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • Sarah Palin's Bikini Wax Disaster

      And so let's ask, what was her point for praying at that ceremony? The answer – to force her religion down everyone's throats. Were her religion sincere and personal, she just would have prayed on her own. But no, it has to be this self-righteous public display, a simple graduation perverted into a religious event by people hoping to widen obedience to their ideology.

      This was not about prayer – it was about asserting domination.

      I wonder how they would have reacted to an Islamic student calling for a moment of prayer to Allah? Would they have been as supportive? Of course not.

      June 7, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • Donny R

      Irrepairble harm? And that comment no doubt is the result from an ejjicated Texan, by cracky!

      June 8, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  14. Friend

    Wow. USA is better than Iran on religious freedom, after all.

    June 7, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      The one thing that has always made me pause was that there was a Jewish community and synagouges in Iran.

      "It is one of the many paradoxes of the Islamic Republic of Iran that this most virulent anti-Israeli country supports by far the largest Jewish population of any Muslim country. " [i]http://www.sephardicstudies.org/iran.html [/i]

      June 7, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • Free

      Mark from Middle River
      Maybe it's like being surprised at how racist the American south is considering how many black folks live there?

      June 8, 2011 at 8:26 am |
    • Donny R

      No, not so much different than Iran's schooling. In retrospect, I hated school! Looking back I feel I was held hostage in our (American) school system until I was sixteen years old. School was like being in prison to me. Then, on my 16th birthday, 11th grade, (62 years ago) I smiled broadly as I walked out the front door. Ahh freedom! Never missed school for a minute. Became a success anyway.

      June 8, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  15. Lycidas

    @Mark (the copycat one)- I wll assume you aren't being serious since we do not actually elect a "Jew" as President anymore than electing a "Christian". We elect a citizen of our nation. Someone that represents everyone.

    Now i know I hurt your feelings on the other thread the other day. But come, grow up a little eh?

    June 7, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • Lycidas

      Who are you talking to, copycat? Yourself? When will you ever take your own advice and grow up? I didn't do anything to you that you didn't do to other people, now did I?
      I think it's time you came out of your basement and get a life, loser. Nobody needs your condescending insults here. 😉

      June 7, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • Lycidas

      It's cute that the obvious fake keeps making the same errors over and over again. If you are going to copy a person, try and do a better job eh?

      June 8, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  16. j

    If a person at graduation were to suddenly start praying over the microphone to Allah I bet the school would suddenly ban school prayers. Or if a person just started rambling on about how there is no God. Yet, we have to listen to prayers about a mythological character made up by "their" religion. I won't bow my head and let someone pray for me, to any God they so choose for me.

    June 7, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • tate22

      "For it is written, as I live, saith the Lord, EVERY knee shall bow to me, and EVERY tongue shall confess to God" ~Romans 14:11~

      June 8, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • DogmaAndPonyShow

      @tate22–That verse tells me everything I need to know about your "lord": that he must be a megalomaniacal bully. Thanks for helping me to secure a long happy life as an atheist.

      June 9, 2011 at 12:52 am |
    • tate22

      "He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgement: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he" Deuteronomy 32:4

      June 9, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
  17. Reality

    The prayer that should have been handed out to all the graduates, parents and friends:




    Added details upon request.=============================================

    June 7, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • daveinsc

      what an utter and complete fool you are.

      June 8, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Reality

      New Torah For Modern Minds

      origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

      "New Torah For Modern Minds

      Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

      Such startling propositions - the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years - have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity - until now.

      The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument. "

      June 8, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  18. Case Settled


    June 7, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Lee

      Proof of god? Sweet, which one? I like Poseiden the best.

      June 7, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • Free

      Thor's better. He has his own comic book, and now a movie too.

      June 7, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  19. Lycidas

    I have never understood why some ppl don't like "Separation of State and Church". It protects everyone.

    It protects the atheist from a Hindu teacher that might want to teach something of faith. It protects the Catholic from the atheist teacher that would dismiss their beliefs outright. It protects the Church from conforming to the Govt while it keeps theological aspects out of the law.

    It helps everyone.

    June 7, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Free

      Yes, it protects religious freedom . The only people who don't like it are the ones who presume that their religious views would dominate should the separation be lifted.

      June 7, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      So you just want to curb everyone's rights? That makes you sound like those nasty Germans wanting a final solution to everything.
      What do you tell a Jew who wants to run your government? That they are not allowed to run at all?
      Try thinking a little harder there, Lycidas. If you act like a little kid we're gonna have to give you a time out.
      But keep having tantrums! It shows us all how you really feel. 😉

      June 7, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • Free

      What rights are you arguing for? Are you saying that every teacher, for example, ought to have the right to teach their personal religious beliefs to students, whatever they may be? Teachers are hired to teach set curricula, and not their personal opinions, even if that opinion is the most popular one in the area. Works for political views too, right? You want a teacher that can help educate your kid about all the various political positions in order for them to make informed choices when it's time to vote. Educate, not indoctrinate.

      June 7, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Wow, I was wondering how long it would take for someone to steal my handle 🙂

      June 7, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Hi Lycidas.

      The issue of the Separation of church and State is that the consti'tution, if I am reading it correctly just says that the state can not create a religion. Sorta, if Barack woke up and said to say “Today, we are all Hindu.” What it does not do is restrict those from professing their faith. Over and over we hear that those of faith should practice our Faith at home. One poster even went as far to say even there we should practice in silence.

      The same people would go nuts if Pat Roberts told a group of Gay and Lesbian citizens the same.

      Also, ...Germans... come on, that sure sounds like some of those radical Atheist. The key is that I know that folks are not all the same which is why I say Nazi and not German.

      ** sniff,sniff** I smell an Oso 🙂

      June 7, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • Free

      Come on, Obama could never just say "we're all Hindu" and presto chango we all are, but he could remove all other religious symbols from government buildings and put up Hindu ones. Maybe change Christmas as a statutory holiday for Diwali, and replace the Bible with the Vedas as what everyone swears upon in court. Maybe re-stamp money with "In Shiva We Trust." How'd ya like that?

      June 7, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • Oso

      Boo hoo I don't like people stealing my handle! I am such a loser. sory sorry sorry! 😀

      June 7, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      "replace the Bible with the Vedas as what everyone swears upon in court."

      Free – I have had to testify in court a bunch of times in the past few years and they do not swear on Bibles. At least not in my state.

      Also, Shiva is “is a primary Hindu deity, “

      So since it does not say only in the Hebrew, Christian and Islamic god do we trust …. “in god” we trust would sorta still work for them 🙂

      June 7, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • Free

      Mark from Middle River
      I've never been arrested (atheist, remember), given testimony, or even been in a real courthouse my whole life, and I'm well into middle age, so I guess I just as.sumed they really did use Bibles like on TV. My mistake.

      Maybe, if such a universal concept is behind invoking the deity on money, then the motto ought to read "In Gods We Trust", eh?

      June 8, 2011 at 12:18 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.