The following question appeared on my Religion and the Constitution exam in 2002.
(Suggested time: 45 minutes) (30 out of 120 total exam points)
Each year, Springdale High School, a public high school within the City of Springdale School District, conducts a formal graduation ceremony. The program for the event, as determined by School District guidelines, consists of welcoming remarks by the school principal, the singing of the National Anthem and a flag salute, vocal selections by the school chorus, a graduation speech by the valedictorian, the handing out of diplomas, the presentation of academic awards, a farewell speech by the senior class president, and a recessional. Under District policy, a written text of all student speeches for graduation are reviewed by the principal no later than one week prior to graduation with the principal having final say as to their content.
Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, the graduation ceremony also included a spiritual invocation delivered by a student chosen by a vote of his or her classmates. However, this part of the graduation ceremony was eliminated after Doe was decided on the advice of the attorney representing the School District. Beginning with the 2001 graduation, no spiritual invocation was included in the graduation ceremony.
In June, 2001, Chris Cole had the highest academic average of any student in the Springdale High School graduating class and was the class valedictorian. In his valedictory speech at graduation he made numerous proselytizing and sectarian religious references. His speech included the following language: “We are all God’s children, through Jesus Christ, when we accept his love and saving grace in our lives. We will not fully succeed unless we pattern our lives after Jesus’ example.” His speech ended as follows: “I ask you to accept God’s love and grace and yield to God. I ask all these things in the precious holy name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
The speech Chris delivered had, as required by district policy, been submitted to the principal prior to graduation. After the principal, Sharon Rogers, read the proposed speech, she met with Chris and suggested that Chris might want to remove some of the proselytizing and sectarian Christian content in the speech because it might be offensive to some in attendance at graduation. However, the principal left that decision up to Chris and did not strike any religious content from the proposed speech. At graduation, Chris delivered his speech as originally written. No one attending the graduation complained about the content of Chris’ speech.
Plans for the 2002 graduation are currently underway. This year’s valedictorian is Debra Cole, Chris Cole’s younger sister. Debra Cole has made it clear that she intends to deliver a speech that contains similar religious content to the one delivered last year by her brother. The principal has indicated that she plans to handle Debra’s proposed speech in exactly the same way as she dealt with Chris Cole’s speech last year and not prohibit the giving of a speech with proselytizing and sectarian Christian content.
Jack and Janet Johnson are taxpayers and residents of the City of Springdale. They are also the parents of Julie Johnson, a student in this year’s Springdale High School graduating class. Jack, Janet and Julie Johnson have filed a lawsuit against the City of Springdale School District and Sharon Rogers, in her official capacity as Principal of Springdale High School, seeking to enjoin them from giving Debra Cole permission to deliver her proposed speech if it contains proselytizing and sectarian religious content. The Johnson family state in their complaint that they all wish to attend graduation, but will refrain from doing so if the school permits the inclusion of proselytizing and sectarian Christian content in the graduation ceremony because such content is offensive to them as practicing Buddhists. They are challenging the speech on Establishment Clause grounds.
You are a law clerk to the judge assigned to the case. The judge asks you to write a memorandum of law detailing the Establishment Clause arguments that are available to the Johnson family in challenging Ms. Roger’s decision to allow the high school valedictorian to include proselytizing and sectarian religious content in her valedictory speech as well as the School District’s arguments in defense of Ms. Roger’s decision to permit the speech.