U.S. District Judge Robert L. Echols issued his ruling yesterday on the ACLU vs. Wilson County Schools (aka Lakeview Elementary). The Tennessean headlined their story this way:
The ACLU, predictably , claimed victory. The Tennessean linked to Judge Echol’s 59 page MEMORANDUM, but NOT to the Judge’s four page ORDER. It’s easy to see why when you read them. In the MEMORANDUM, the Judge identifies a number of impermissable incidents, where the Lakeview School System may have crossed the line, largely by inaction and giving too much leeway to the group, “Praying Parents.”
But if you read the Judge’s ORDER, what is remarkable is the affirmation of the wide range of activities conducted by the “Praying Parents” that the Judge ruled were acceptable and protected under the 1st Amendment “Free Exercise of religion” clause.
Here are the significant points:
(3) The individual Defendants and their successors and all parties’ officers, agents, servants, employees, and attorneys acting in concert or participation with them are hereby permanently enjoined, restrained, and directed as follows:
3(b) The Praying Parents group may meet on Lakeview School property in the same manner as other groups are allowed to meet on Lakeview School property . . .
3(c) The Praying Parents group may have direct access to the Lakeview School teachers’ lounge and the mailboxes of Lakeview School administrators, teachers and staff in the same manner as other groups . . .
3(d) The Praying Parents group may distribute materials about their activities and advertise their activities through flyers, posters, “Eagle Eye” notices, and announcements in the same manner and to the same extent as other groups are allowed to distribute materials about their activities . . .
3(e) Lakeview School kindergarten teachers may include in their instruction about the origin and history of the Thanksgiving holiday and the culture of the Pilgrims a short, generic prayer blessing as an example of the type of Thanksgiving prayer that may have been said by the Pilgrims . . .
3(f) Lakeview School kindergarten teachers may include a nativity scene, accompanied by the singing of religious carols, in the annual Christmas program . . .
3(g) Lakeview School may permit the See You At The Pole™ event and the National Day of Prayer event to take place on school property during non-instructional hours . . .
This is not exactly the “victory” that the ACLU and the plaintiffs sought. In each of those six areas, the ACLU and the plaintiffs had sought to have the activities of the “Praying Parents” and Lakeview School prohibited. In fact, Judge Echols ruled in a clear and direct fashion that the activities were permitted.
I shall be praying that the ACLU secures many more such “victories” as this one. They can have the headlines. The “Praying Parents,” regardless of what the Tennessean might say, have had their activities affirmed and protected by a federal judge. Well done, Judge Echols!
– Rob Shearer
Director, Schaeffer Study Center