A high school in Texas has been involved in a lawsuit regarding prayer at graduation. As Christians, should we be more concerned about the “right” of prayer or another individual’s faith struggle?
This past weekend, Medina Valley High School in Texas held its graduation ceremony for the class of 2011.
Unfortunately, this graduation ceremony was the topic of much controversy across the nation regarding whether prayer should be allowed at high school graduations.
The ordeal began about a week prior to the ceremony when Corwyn Schultz and his parents filed a lawsuit against the school. Corwyn is a member of Medina Valley’s class of 2011 and agnostic. He told his parents he would not attend the ceremony if the program included a prayer.
The court first ruled in favor of the Schultzes, banning prayer and other religious language from the ceremony, but the ruling greatly displeased members of the community, particularly Angela Hildenbrand, the school’s valedictorian.
In an appeal, Hildenbrand, represented by the Liberty Institute, convinced the courts that the ban on prayer was wrong. Hildenbrand felt the ban violated her religious liberty because she planned to pray in her speech.
After the appeal, Hildenbrand said she was “so blessed that God has provided me with the opportunity to be a part of this case, and to be able to share with all my heart tomorrow night… Everything can go on as planned Saturday, and I’m free to pray as I feel appropriate.”
The Schultzes did not attend the graduation ceremony June 4.
It is easy to see both sides of the argument, but as a Christ follower, I fail to see Hildenbrand’s plea. Why do some Christians feel the need to make sure they have the “right” to pray?
Christ tells us in Matthew 6:5-6: “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Christ tells us to pray when no one else can see. He describes prayer in this passage as something “done in secret.” Our creator can hear even the most silent of prayers. Prayer is not a “right.” It is a gift.
Hildenbrand’s reckless desire to have the “right” to pray pushed one of her classmates to the point of not participating in his high school graduation. How Christian is that?
When a prayer becomes more important than a soul, something has gone awry.
Andrew Gardner is an undergraduate student in religious studies and history at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.
Andrew Gardner holds a PhD in American Religious History and is the author of “Reimagining Zion: A History of the Alliance of Baptists” (Nurturing Faith Publishing).