The way we become involved is that Saddleback faculty and students came to us for help after unsuccessfully trying for years to persuade the District’s Board of Trustees to stop having prayers at official college and District events like graduation and scholarship ceremonies.
Saddleback is a religiously diverse community. Not everyone believes the same thing, and not everyone prays the same way. As the faculty and students had explained to the Board over and over again, the District’s prayer practice is not only unconstitutional— because the government isn’t allowed to be in the business of sponsoring and holding official prayers — but also deeply disrespectful to people of minority faiths and nonbelievers. The Constitution provides for the separation of church and state so that nobody will ever have to feel like an outsider or misfit just because she doesn’t share the faith of the majority or that of the people in power. Our Constitution simply doesn’t permit the government to force people to participate in prayer.
It doesn’t permit the government to say, “We’re going to sponsor the religious practices we like, and if you don’t believe it, you’re not one of us — you don’t belong.” But that’s just what’s happening here: The college tells students who have won scholarships that it will take those scholarships away if the students don’t go to a college ceremony where they will have to participate in a prayer that may be contrary to their faith. It tells students that they can’t even go to their own graduation if they aren’t willing to take part in the prayers.
If we allow a few powerful people to declare, based on their own religious beliefs, who gets to be a part of the school community — who gets to teach, what will be taught, and who is allowed to learn — then we all suffer, members of majority and minority faiths alike. That’s not a world that the students and faculty at Saddleback should have to live in. That’s why
they are standing up and fighting in this lawsuit. We at Americans United think they’re right, and that, ultimately, is why we’re helping them.