Courting Our Annual Culture War
As predicted, the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act was greeted with its first lawsuit on Friday by Buffalo Grove (IL) High School freshman Dawn Sherman. With her father and attorney, she seeks an immediate injunction against the law and an ultimate decision concerning its constitutionality. Although the prospects of winning seem slim, the Chicago Tribune and others have questioned the law's wisdom (this from a right-of-center editorial board!).
Stevenson High School junior Aliya de Grazia led a walk-out of her first period class a week ago Friday, and was greeted with a Saturday detention of three hours, ironically a MUCH longer moment of silence!
De Grazia protested legislative overreach, allowing that "it's good for students to take a moment and think about their day, but that should be done on their own time."
She too sees the slippery slope: "This doesn't seem like a big deal now, but these kinds of things can escalate."
At Wheaton College, sophomore Erika Corder sued her Colorado high school after she proselytized in a commencement address and was subsequently punished. Reminiscent of Brittany McComb, Corder was sneaky in her delivery, submitting a prepared speech to her principal for approval, and memorizing her non-written religious segment. She was at first denied her diploma until she apologized for her actions. She refused, but did acknowledge that her bait-and-switch technique was flawed.
To Corder's credit, she seeks clarity for high school graduation speeches when God is referenced. The financial stake here is only attorney's fees. I could save all parties some money and suggest that proselytizing is forbidden, mere references to religion and its importance in one's life is permissible, and Corder has no claim because she defied school policy from the start. Case closed!
Last, but not least, the Supreme Court accepted a case concerning a Muslim prisoner's claim that officials illegally confiscated two copies of his Quran and a prayer rug. The case does not directly invoke the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause, but it does touch it tangentially. The minutia of the challenge centers on the question of whether prison officials are law enforcement officers and thus protected by the Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946, which bars liability lawsuits for confiscated property.
The courts, once again, will weigh in on each of these issues, hopefully providing further clarity as to whether there are cracks in the wall of the First Amendment, and if the "play in the joint" between the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses permits flexibility as we ramp up for our annual seasonal standoff.