Valedictorian prays during commencement speech after court ruling
A valedictorian student from Texas prayed from the podium on her graduation day recently, confident that it was legal, thanks to a ruling by a federal appeals court.
Angelina Hildenbrand, upon her graduation from Medina Valley High School, Castroville, told the crowd, “Whether you would like to join me or not, feel free to do as you see best,” KSAT reported.
Hundreds of people packed the school’s football field benches—family of graduating students, relatives and friends–who also watched Hildenbrand pray, as did the nation on television, according to Charisma Magazine.
Hildebrand said, “God, I thank you for the support of the entire community through this case hearing,” according to CNN.
Federal judge ruling
On Wednesday the previous week, U.S. District Court Judge Fred Biery issued a ruling that banned prayer at the graduation ceremony of Medina Valley. The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by the Schultz family, an agnostic family, who has a son who attends the school, CNN said.
The lawsuit filed by the Schultz family claimed that their son would be the victim of “irreparable harm” if there should be any prayer at the graduation ceremony, according to CNN.
Upon learning of the ruling, Gov. Rick Perry, along with the state attorney general Greg Abbott threw their support behind an emergency appeal that was filed by the school on the day following the judge’s ruling, CNN said.
Last Friday the ruling was reversed by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Its decision noted that the three-judge panel was not convinced that “the individual prayers or other remarks to be given by students at graduation are, in fact, school-sponsored,” CNN reported.
Sen. John Cornyn said, “This is a victory not only for valedictorian Angela Hildenbrand, but also for her fellow graduates and young people across the country whose rights to express themselves through prayer at graduation ceremonies were vindicated. Today the gavel fell on the side of justice and reaffirmed the constitutional rights we hold dear,” Charisma Magazine reported.
Kelly Shackelford, CEO of Liberty Institute which represented Hildenbrand said, “This is a complete victory for religious freedom and for Angela. No citizen has the right to ask the government to bind and gag the free speech of another citizen,” according to Charisma Magazine.
However, not everyone was pleased with the ruling. The Schultz family, who did not attend the graduation ceremony, said in a statement, “Our family chose not to attend the ceremony this evening because we did not feel welcome at the event and we even feared for our safety in light of how hostile some of the public comments have been,” CNN reported.
The Schultz family said, “Graduation is a significant rite of passage for a young person, and we regret that our son will not be able to enjoy this special day with his peers,” according to CNN.
Hildenbrand, the school’s Valedictorian, was slated to deliver the school’s commencement speech. She had been fighting hard to pray during her speech, KSAT 12 said.
Her entire prayer, which is reprinted in CitizenLink follows:
“Lord, I thank you so much for the blessing of this day. And I just thank you for the amazing group of people that you surrounded me with.
“God, I thank you for the support of our whole entire community through this case hearing; and also for Erin (Leu) and all the people at the Liberty Institute; and my parents, who’ve helped get me through the last couple of days.
“Lord, I just thank you so much for your presence in our lives through these 18 years. And I just praise you for your incredible faithfulness through all adversity and all joy.
“God, I thank you for the men and women who have given their lives helping to give us, and protect, the freedoms that we have today. And I ask that you please keep your hand of guidance on all of them — past, present and future military.
“God, I thank you just so much for the freedom to be here today. And most of all, I thank you for loving us first.
“God, I ask that you please keep each of us safe and well, as we all go our separate ways. And I can’t wait to see where you’ll be leading each of us. I ask that you’ll ask us all to remember where we come from, and to know where we stand.
“God, I thank you for the gift of your Son and for the forgiveness that surpasses all understanding. And most of all, I thank you for your great love for us, and for our great nation, where we are free.
“And it’s in Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”