Medina Valley High School graduates pray during the Medina Valley High School graduation held Saturday June 4, 2011 at Panther Stadium in Castroville, Tx. (PHOTO BY EDWARD A. ORNELASfirstname.lastname@example.org)
The judge who tried to bar organized prayer from last month's Medina Valley High School graduation issued an order Monday instructing school officials and an agnostic family who sued to notify him by July 21 whether they plan lengthy and expensive litigation or want to resolve it sooner.
Chief U.S. District Judge Fred Biery said he had received an offer to mediate the lawsuit from a lawyer, "a long-time member of the federal bar who is an elder of a conservative Christian denomination, and who has now entered a second career with a Master of Divinity degree ... if the parties wish to try to be reconciled to each other and put the interests of education of students first."
The suit was filed in May by the parents of an agnostic student, Corwyn Schultz.
Biery granted the family's request for a temporary order barring speakers at the June 4 graduation from praying or calling on the audience to pray. He did not, however, agree to ban individual religious expression, like making the sign of the cross, as the Schultz's lawyers asked.
The district appealed, backed by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, and Biery's order was overturned a day before the graduation by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said the Schultzes had not shown that they were likely to prove the school had endorsed prayers at its events.
The Schultz family skipped the commencement ceremony, in which many in the crowd enthusiastically joined the valedictorian's call to pray, and in the following weeks Biery drew a continuous stream of brickbats, including calls for his removal, from Christian activists, conservative politicians and members of the public.
The lawsuit is still pending on allegations that the Medina Valley Independent School District routinely forced prayers on students at school-sponsored events. School officials deny this and said Monday they are discussing the matter with district lawyers.
"Our leadership team does not believe we are going to settle simply for the sake of settling," said Chris Martinez, a Medina Valley's assistant superintendent. "We're going to support the constitutional rights of our students and their freedom of expression. ... This has never been an 'us versus them' situation. This is what is right for our students."
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SOURCE: My San Antonio