school prayer in bastrop

Bastrop School Knowingly Breaks Laws and Promises About Prayer

Yesterday, we brought you Damon Fowler’s struggle to stop the school’s prayer at his graduation. He threatened to go to the ACLU, so they actually backed down. Then staff members at this school started saying extremely upsetting things about him in the town’s newspapers. They were mad that a person dared to call them out on decades old constitutionally settled law.

Several of us passed along his request for people to write to the school, and I added a link to the newspaper in Bastrop. You guys did an outstanding job, and it looked like the story was turning around.

They promised not to have the prayer, and positive stories rolled out in the news. All good, right?

Unbelievably, they went ahead with the prayer anyway.

The woman giving the invocation starts off claiming that there would be no prayer, and a moment of silence would be conducted instead. It was a pretty loud moment of silence, and she kept blathering about her Christianity. Then, she started straight up praying. Clearly she was both aware of and defiant towards existing laws and policies put in place to stop government entanglement with religion.

If you hate the Constitution and you know it clap your hands.

Perhaps not so surprisingly, they erupted into rapturous praise. The town had been worked up into a frenzy, in no small part due to this Bastrop school official hurling insults at Damon Fowler in the newspapers:

Mitzi Quinn has been on the staff at BHS for almost 25 years, much of that time as a senior advisor. In the past, Quinn said there have been students who were atheist, agnostic and other non-Christian religions who “had no problems” with the prayer.

“And what’s even more sad is this is a student who really hasn’t contributed anything to graduation or to their classmates,” Quinn said.

Damon – thank you for being brave enough to try to stop it. You did an amazing job of getting the word out. Get a lawyer, get in college, and get the hell out of Bastrop for a while. Just know that you had an avalanche of support pouring in.

Readers, if you can spare 5 more minutes for this brave young atheist, please do. Here is the contact information again. - This time I’d call for the firing of all involved in perpetrating this. Does anybody know the name of the person giving the invocation? Please tell me it’s not the same school staffer who was talking shit about Damon in the newspapers – Mitzi Quinn.

Send an Email to the superintendent of his school.

Write a letter to the editor at Bastrop, LA’s local newspaper.
Contact: Mark Rainwater (318) 281 2691

Call the Louisiana ACLU
(504) 522-0617 – [Couldn’t find an email address]

**Update**
This appears to be footage from the rehearsal on Thursday May 19, and the speaker may have been a student. Whoever this is, they were clearly told NOT to do this, and only invited to give a (still unnecessary) moment of silence. Let’s hope the school does the right thing. She’s already shown her hand, and is not following the guidance given to her. If this is repeated at the live event, the school is a willing participant (assuming this was the student).

37 thoughts on “Bastrop School Knowingly Breaks Laws and Promises About Prayer

  1. Matt

    Hey,

    I think the girl leading the Prayer is the high school valedictorian Sarah Beth Barlow (http://www.facebook.com/sbbarlow). Her profile isn’t private so she shouldn’t complain over it being shared. On her FB wall she seems pretty happy with her decision:

    Let me rephrase that….I’m glad of MY decision to pray tonight.

    Call the American Civil Liberties Union all you want to, buddy. However, I’m praying at MY graduation. If you do not want to participate in prayer, then don’t bow your head. You may not believe that there is a God above, but I sure do.

    The lack of knowledge about the constitution is astounding. I am a student in England, and I seem to know more than she does.

    1. Justin Griffith Post author

      Shocking stuff there, and it certainly is possible. However, I’m not convinced fully. Why would the Valedictorian be invited to give the ‘invocation’ (prayer) instead of make a speech?

      The wording that the speaker gives makes me think “This is not a student” – totally could be wrong though.

      Did you see Sarah Beth Barlow’s uncle planning to jeer at Damon?

      Heta High I will definitely pray with you! & ur uncle is going to BOO that kid, so be warned…..

  2. Chris-pee

    This makes me sick, action needs to be taken! Proudly breaking laws AND Promises? What does this teach the students that are about to go into the real world or college? Its ok to be defiant , as long as its in the name of Gods? Keep your superstition out of schools!

    In a nutshell.

    Bastrop class of 2011, go ahead and promise to do something, you can always break that promise.

  3. KKT

    “And what’s even more sad is this is a student who really hasn’t contributed anything to graduation or to their classmates,”

    Like that makes a difference because it was just a mediocre student. WTF

  4. Michael Baggett

    I find it shameful that a Cristian can memorize the “lord prayer” yet have no idea what the verse immediately preceding it say. The “lord prayer’ can be found in the book of Matthew chapter 6. These verses clear say that God does not want anyone to pray in public or in groups. It says in very clear language they only proper way to pray is at home and alone…and only then will God hear you Matt 6:6. The “lords prayer” starts at Matt 6:8.

  5. WTF is wrong with you people?

    Why are you so anti-religion? That was not a state sponsored prayer at all, it was freedom of religion of a highschool student.

    1. I'll tell you what's wrong

      The US Supreme Court doesn’t agree with your evaluation. Here is the precedent. The school cannot allow even student-led prayer as part of its official proceedings. It qualifies as an endorsement.

    2. D W

      The STUDENT had the freedom of religion to pray privately at home, or silently, before her stunt. She did NOT have the right to intrude on others.

      She is not a very good endorsement of her school, if they cannot teach her the basic constitutional issues.

  6. Don

    Anti-religion? Stop being a hypocrite, “too afraid to post a name”.

    What if it had been a Muslim student reading from the Koran?

    Or a Hindu student praying to Brahma?

    Or a neo-pagan thanking the nature spirits?

    I DARE you to answer honestly. :)

  7. Denise

    According to the newspaper article, the video above was the graduation rehearsal, not the actual graduation (which is tonight). We’ll see what happens at the actual event, I guess. If anyone wonders why people are turned off toward Christianity, here’s a great example. Too many of them can’t stop pushing at it everyone, no matter what.

  8. Lew Payne

    Religion just screws things up for everyone. It causes needless debates, fights, legal battles and even wars – over whose imaginary deity is right, is the most powerful, is the “one and only” and such. Never has so much blood been shed over nothing.

  9. Vincent

    Separation of church and state..
    It is a public school therefore it has to abide by the rules set forth by the founding fathers of the United States of America.

  10. Don, you are dumb

    A name means nothing. There is more than one Don in the world, so you using that as your callsign means nothing, nothing at all.

    And I would have no problem with it, honestly. People who do seem to be against civil rights.

    1. Justin Griffith Post author

      I’m going to have to officially discourage this from others. Melissa, you’re my buddy – and I know that you would send a thoughtful message. But, there are people in every demographic that are ‘toxic’ and in no way do I want to encourage harassment (even if it was asked for, even if her profile was demonstrably made public, even if they did it to one of ‘our guys’, etc.)

  11. Terry

    If you watch the video, it’s one of the blue-robed students who gets up and leads the prayer. Probably an artful dodge. The school said “moment of silence”, so what the student does is out of their control…wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

    Although it seems from the introduction the student got, that the person introducing her was probably aware the student was going to do this.

    I like it when the student says, “And I respect those that do not share the same beliefs that I do, BUT…” and proceeds to completely DISREPECT at least one student who does not share her beliefs by turning a secular event for a public school into a Christian-flavored event.

    This is how Christians try to keep atheists in their place. This is how they try to keep us silent. If they won’t respect us, why should we respect them?

  12. Karl

    WTF: students are free to pray, as are administrators and faculty, as individuals and in a non-disruptive manner, except when they are acting in a formal capacity for the school, such as when they are being the valedictorian.

  13. Joshua

    But if the administration and faculty are complicit or encouraging in the act, Is that not an endorsement? She tipped her hand a bit early by doing this at rehearsal. The should be forced to stop her if she does it again at the actual graduation.

  14. Gotrootdude

    Even at a rehearsal, the fact remains that the people present were not previously informed of the proselytizing of which they were a captive audience. It does not matter that the majority wished to be captivated (that is their right), it matters that they ensnared the minorities in the same cage.

  15. Mike

    As long as the school did not direct that prayer should take place then the girl is free to pray.

    So that issues of church/state separation are not muddied with free speech issues, it should be clear that with the school backing down on directing prayer must happen, all that’s left to condemn is the treatment of Damon by the school and community.

    Please don’t get lost in what-ifs and calls for equal-opportunity Muslim prayers etc. Keep this a clean victory.

  16. Kthuuluu

    This is a prime example of why the U.S is becoming a running joke to the rest of the western world.

    The sheer level of both ignorance and hatred displayed here is indicative of a society that is slowly slipping under the rule of the mob.

    Christianity destroyed Rome, that first great bastion of Law, it is sad to see it succeeding again in the U.S

  17. sebastianP

    It doesn’t matter if 95% of the audience could easily be devout Christians and endorsed her action: She is breaking the law. While she talked about her faith and her religious views in her speech, she remained within the limits of the First Amendment. Once she chose to ask the audience to bow their head and proceeded to lead a prayer in a state financed school, she brought the law of separation of church and state. She also violated the civil rights of non-christian in the room who became a captive audience.

  18. Jim

    I fail to see how a moment of silence isn’t enough to please everyone. If you want to pray, pray in silence – if you want to stand there and do nothing, stand there and do nothing.

    Unfortunately, the PRIDE of some (many?) is just too much and they have to bulldoze their faith outloud.

  19. Don

    I have a solution! And it’s a relatively simple, poetic, and completely legal one.

    When the actual objectionable Prayer begins, simply begin chanting loudly “KEEP YOUR JESUS OFF MY PENIS, KEEP YOUR BIBLE OFF MY BALLS, KEEP YOUR PRAYERS OUT OF MY EARS AND YOUR CROSSES OFF MY WALLS”
    ( from the song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5YrB7TpT1Y )

    And if/when anyone objects, simply reply “Ah! See how it feels? I feel the same way about YOUR obscene chanting! I’m so glad you finally understand.”

  20. Don

    BTW, I’m tickled they referred to their illegal, obscence “prayer” as an Invocation.

    Invocation (noun): the act of summoning a spirit or demon from another world by ritual incantation or magic

    Oooga Boooga!

  21. Michael

    Good for Damon for standing up for what he believed in, and good for the student who said the prayer regardless. No law was broken. The supreme court ruling states that it cannot be a state-approved prayer. It wasn’t. What she did she did on her own, without the approval or knowledge of the school superintendent no matter what anyone thinks. Mr. Katz,the school’s lawyer, is jewish and absolutely told them not to say a prayer. She had been told to lead a “moment of silence”, but did what she felt was right. Since it was a student, and not a faculty member, there is nothing a court can do. The students did not boo Mr. Fowler when his name was called to receive his diploma. They showed class by doing nothing. I graduated from Bastrop High School, and today can say that I am proud of that fact. If more young people would stand up for what they believe in, this country would be a better place.

  22. what

    In addition to spending the energy of posting comments here, also email your comments to the school superintendent, the newspaper and any other outlet.

    If you have the energy to post comments about this you have the energy to complain to the school and newspapers as well. I do and I did.

  23. Appalled

    I can’t believe these people. They have every right to pray all they want in private, but they shouldn’t make it part of an event for a public school. If they want prayer to be incorporated into school, they should go to a private school. Not only is this spitting in the faces of atheists and agnostics, but also anyone who isn’t Christian. I live in the bible belt and I’ve been to events where there’s prayer, and there’s great social pressure to participate as well. If you refuse to lie to yourself and others and pretend you share their beliefs, they look down on you and shun you for it. It angers me that these people can’t seem to grasp the simple concept respect for others. I’m not saying they can’t give thanks, but it should be done privately, not as part of the public ceremony for all graduates.

  24. Dr. Lesley Shure

    [Here is what I just emailed the Superintendent:]

    I must say, Mr. Thrower, I loved your “Moment of silence.” From the video, it did not quite last a full second. No wonder you didn’t have it entitled “Second of silence.” It did, however, come second to a very secular prayer. You set the example for all our students and from them to the rest of our nation that only those who bravely trample on the very Constitution that allows them to exist in peace have the right to exist in peace at all, while tormenting all overs. Nice! Just as our founding fathers would have suffered sectarian strife, were it not for their ability to take a breath from religious in-fighting and citizen take-over to deal with the British government’s taxation without representation, you will continue your efforts until you, too, prove to be “just not Christian enough” in someone else’s eyes. Then, you will be on the outs and in the crosshairs of the very people you think are supporting you. Meanwhile, if Christians can ignore Constitutional law, their precedent sets an example for other religions of emerging majority. A Texan told me Christian prayers aren’t meant to offend others, listing Catholics among the others. She had to stop and think, before responding to my next question: Aren’t Catholics also Christian? They believe in Jesus Christ. Well, name a religious population growing faster than Catholics in the Great Republic of Texas, right now. Can’t? Well, then maybe you better start attending Mass, because change will come, either in support of the Constitution or in sectarian infighting among Christians.

    [I should add a correction, that he is in LA, not TX, adding that it took LA Bible Belters a long time to gain such a strong foothold in TX, but with 24/7 live news streams and the internet, the push back from TX growing Catholic population will be faster. Personal conversation with Texans illustrates that “Christians” don’t count “Catholics” unless they specifically have to. Personally, I don’t care if they want to go to war against each other, just so long as they leave the rest of us out of it. Pardon me while I include innocent children with the rest of us.]

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