Graduating high school senior Angela Hildrenbrand says she’s willing to go to jail if that’s what it takes to be allowed to thank Jesus as her Lord and Savior during her valedictorian speech this weekend.
The Texas State Attorney General and her school district are fighting to see that she will be allowed to pray. But if they lose the court battle, the 18-year-old announced in front of the Alamo, she will pray anyway and pay the consequences.
“I’ve been looking forward to my high school graduation day for a long time. And I had hoped it would be a cause for celebration, not for conflict,” said Hildenbrand.
A prayer ban at her graduation in a San Antonio suburb went into effect after an agnostic family and their graduating senior filed a lawsuit last week. A judge granted their injunction banning any prayer at the graduation. Now Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is joining the Castroville school district’s appeal to allow students to express themselves.
Abbott said the judge’s ruling banning students from praising God or offering Him thanks during their commencement speeches is unconstitutional.
“The last thing these students should have done is to have ripped out from under them their ability to participate in a ceremony they’ve been expecting for the last four years,” he said.
Chief U.S. District Judge Fred Biery had ruled that students and their parents cannot ask the audience to join in prayer, bow their heads or even say aloud the words “prayer” or “amen.”
School board President Roland Ruiz argues that permitting students to express their religious views in school does not mean the district endorses religion. In fact, the district printed a disclaimer in each graduation program noting the content of each student speaker’s message is the private expression of the individual student and does not reflect the endorsement of the district.
Hildenbrand said she simply wants to thank God for his blessings in her speech to students and wants permission to use some language that’s been barred by U.S. District Judge Fred Biery: words like “Lord,” “in Jesus name,” and “amen.”
Hildenbrand said it is the language of her personal faith.
Furthermore, she added, “I intend to pray in my speech on Saturday. And I feel that the court’s ruling does infringe upon my rights to freely express my religious views, and so I hope the appeals court will do the right thing.”
Her father, Timothy Hildenbrand, said, “As a parent and as a citizen I would just like to say that I’m so proud of my daughter for standing up for our First Amendment rights.”