A national group that says its main crusade is fighting TV porn has filed suit against Le Mars High School. At a senior assembly convened to plan the spring graduation this year, some of the students had suggested a moment of silence, but the district’s lawyer, Jim Hanks, says that set off alarm bells. The superintendent noted there have been disputes in other places over graduation prayer, and not wanting the district to appear to be sponsoring religion, he decided the moment of silence should be canceled. The Mississippi-based “American Family Association” heard about it, and filed a suit to prevent the district from banning the moment of silence.He says this group lost a classmate in their sophomore year, apparently a teacher as well, and wanted to set aside 30 seconds of silence to reflect on what’s happened, including Columbine and the Iraqi war. Joe Murray is a staff lawyer for the American Family Association’s Center for Law and Policy who says the moment of silence was not proposed as a memorial for the deceased classmate. He says the students wanted to reflect on “what this all meant,” though he says some would use the time to pray, some to meditate, some simply to reflect. Murray says though it hasn’t been part of previous graduation ceremonies, the moment of silence is a first-amendment right for students who want it.He says the school district opened up the forum of the graduation-planning assembly, he says, and now can’t take away an item from the ceremony they planned there, because it’s unfair and unconstitutional. Jim Hanks, the Le Mars school district’s lawyer, says courts have ruled that prayer is not allowed at school events…but the “moment of silence” is a different subject. Hanks says a moment of silence has been ruled constitutional in some case, upheld in others, and Hanks refers to a Missouri “moment of silence” statute found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1985, though others have been upheld. A host of court rulings across the nation have split on whether “moment of silence” means a religious event or not. Hanks says the problem is that there’s a right to freedom of speech and religion for individuals, but also that governmental bodies must refrain from establishing or sponsoring religion, so those are in tension. The superintendent and the principal of LeMars High School will appear at a Monday-morning hearing in federal court in Sioux City. The American Family Association formed in 1977 to combat sex in media, and has battled gay rights and the National Endowment for the Arts, backed groups that want religious images on public property, and launched a “war on divorce” in 1994.
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