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Prayers in Concord: What protected speech?

July 27. 2013 3:20PM

Since February, Concord High School has let Lizarda Urena, mother of two Concord High students, pray atop the school's steps for 15 minutes each morning. Then an out-of-state anti-religion group pressured the school to give her the boot. Shamefully, the superintendent did.

Urena used to pray off campus, but when two bullets were found in a school bathroom in February, she asked Principal Gene Connolly if she could say her prayers on school grounds. He said yes.

"She's not teaching prayer; she's not out there asking kids to come with (her)," he told the Concord Monitor in May. "She does not promote religion."

Describing Urena's morning ritual, the Monitor reported that she recites two Psalms from memory "and she calls out thanks to the Lord for bringing peace to the school. She holds up her hands as she shouts out, sometimes kneeling but always looking at the sky as she prays."

Her prayers are to bring peace to the school, not to convert students. But to anti-religion zealots, none of that matters. Religion itself must be purged from public life and public spaces. The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation claimed that the school unconstitutionally endorsed the prayers. Nonsense, of course, but under this pressure, Superintendent Christine Rath ordered Urena out.

School board President Kassandra Ardinger said, "To be fair to all the kids in the school, it is probably best for the principal to say that she shouldn't be speaking out like this and proselytizing on school grounds. The best mode of action was to tell her to cool it."

But Urena was not proselytizing. She was blessing the school, asking God to keep it free of violence. This is a clear-cut case of anti-religious harassment, from out-of-state, no less.

Urena was engaged in protected speech, and she was told to stop because of the content of that speech.

The school and the district may prohibit people from interfering with or disrupting students atop the steps. They may establish policies that restrict the time and location of speeches. But they may not eject a speaker simply because she is praying. This is the sort of discrimination that ought to elicit howls from the American Civil Liberties Union and from leftists who claim to oppose such heavy-handed meddling from out-of-state interest groups. Alas, Christians have long since given up on having their rights defended by those self-proclaimed defenders of individual liberty.

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