In a decision likely to draw fire from those who believe God and religion should be implanted into our children’s minds from the moment they leave the birth canal, a United States district judge, James T. Moody, has issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the Huntington School System from keeping a trailer used for bible lessons on school property.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in November on behalf of a parent who asked that the school system be prohibited from allowing a program called “By the Book Weekday Religious Instruction” to be taught in a trailer located at the Horace Mann Elementary School – on the school’s property and near the front entrance.
In a January hearing, Magistrate Roger B. Cosbey found that the program violated the First Amendment’s prohibition against an establishment of religion and recommended that the program be discontinued on school property. Judge Moody then had the opportunity to either uphold the magistrate’s ruling or to rule against the magistrate and in favor of the school system.
Since the school system is considered an arm of the state, it falls within the purview of the 14th amendment, which made many of the original Bill of Rights guarantees applicable against the states. One of those guarantees was the separation of church and state. The issue of separation becomes more critical when it arises in the context of elementary, junior high, and high school students since the state mandates attendance and these students are considered a “captive” audience – at least up to a certain age.
In determining whether or not a policy has violated the First Amendment, courts use what has come to be known as the Lemon test – from the United Supreme Court case of Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971). The Lemon test sets out the following three criteria when analyzing whether or not a governmental action is an establishment of religion:
- The government’s action must have a secular (non-religious) legislative purpose;
- The government’s action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;
- The government’s action must not result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religion.
If any one of these three prongs is violated, the governmental action is deemed an unconstitutional violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
The parent did not seek damages of any type other than reimbursement of her attorney’s fees. Those from the school system who supported the placement of the trailer and the instruction taught within its walls just couldn’t quite fathom the issue involved. Arguments were made that the program had been in existence for 50 years, thus it couldn’t be wrong.
Yes, and slavery existed for 50 years – would anyone argue that it was acceptable? The length of time a policy has been in force has nothing to do with whether it is right or wrong. In the case of the religious trailer and instruction, it was probably a case of no one having the nerve to tackle the issue. After all, when anyone speaks out against a possible violation of the Establshment Clause or any religious issue, for that matter, the person is crucified as being anti-god and anti-religion. Then we get a lengthy diatribe about how our country has gone downhill because of taking God out of our daily lives.
To those who want to pray, to have God in their lives on a daily basis, to worship as they please, those rights have never been taken away. If I want to sit here at my laptop and pray, I am perfectly free to do so. What we are not free to do is to use state-funded property to advance the cause of religion – which the Huntington school system’s program did. The decision by Judge Moody should be of no surprise to those who follow constitutional law and who understand the real issue underlying the decision.