Monday, January 14, 2008

Absolutist interpretation of establishment clause in McKenzie, Oregon

The senior class in McKenzie, Oregon, chose a class motto for their graduation ceremonies that was loosely based on a scripture, Isaiah 40:31. The school district has banned it.

The motto reads: "They that believe shall mount up with wings as eagles."

The original passage reads: "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles."

The school’s mascot is the Eagle, and the students thought that if they removed reference to God in the motto, it would be OK. Not so, according to the school district’s attorney, Bruce Zagar. In his formal opinion to the school district, he gave one of the most absolutist interpretations of the establishment clause that I have ever heard.

From the KATU story: “he advised the district that both the U.S. and Oregon constitutions prevent any public entity from taking any action which establishes, sponsors, supports or otherwise condones a particular religion or religious belief.”

Wow. If this is true, how can the U.S. Supreme Court start its sessions with a prayer? How can high school choirs sing Christmas songs?

I know something about this because just a couple weeks ago I asked Dave Fidanque, a lawyer for the ACLU, about high school choirs singing religious based songs in their Christmas programs. He said there really is no problem as long as the program itself does not constitute a religious ceremony.

Clearly, a high school choir singing Handels Messiah would constitute “condoning” a particular religion.

Apparently, according to this lawyer, any motto or expression published by the school that is based on a religious principle is off limits. So I guess they could not have an ethics code published that says “don’t steal.”

This is a ridiculously extreme position to take. It is wrong on the law, and it reflects the hostile attitude toward religion in our public schools.


Anonymous said...

And as usual, the people hurt by this decision are the kids.

Bulmaro Barajas said...

Or how about "no cheating"

Anonymous said...

Well, I hope the one who delivers the class speech at grduation speaks to this issue and repeats the phrase more than once. I'm sure it could be included in recounting the years struggles beginning with the death of their classmate. I'm also supprised that the ACLJ has not taken their cause. Maybe an involved student needs to ask them.