Judge slams critics of Texas school prayer ruling

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — A federal judge who was vilified by Republican presidential hopefuls for banning prayer at a Texas high school graduation delivered a scathing and unusually personal response Thursday, saying those who used the case to further political goals “should be ashamed.”

In a court filing laying out the settlement terms of the prayer case, U.S. District Judge Fred Biery wrote he forgave Christians who “venomously and vomitously” threatened his assassination, he thanked the U.S. Marshals for providing him additional security and without singling anyone out by name, offered a self-deprecating nod to those who wished him the worst.

“To those who have prayed for my death: Your prayers will someday be answered, as inevitably trumps probability,” Biery wrote.

The unusually personal comments in a federal court order overshadowed the actual settlement. The case had been closely watched by social conservatives, and on the campaign trail, Newt Gingrich has portrayed Biery, a 1994 Clinton appointee, as the embodiment of so-called activist judges.

After winning the South Carolina primary, Gingrich singled out Biery as a “dictatorial religious bigot” for his decision in the San Antonio court case.

Under the settlement, the Medina Valley Independent School District won’t officially make prayer part of graduation ceremonies. The settlement does not, however, prohibit valedictorians or other student speakers from praying during their remarks.

Craig Wood, an attorney for the school district, said the deal forces the district to make only minor changes.

Last May, Biery granted a temporary restraining order filed by an agnostic family who claimed traditions at their son’s graduation, including the invocation and benediction, excluded their beliefs and violated their constitutional rights.

Biery’s ruling prohibited Medina Valley seniors from asking audience members to join in prayer, bow their heads, end remarks with “amen,” or even use the word “prayer.” A federal appeals court later reversed the ban before the ceremony took place.

Being overruled didn’t prevent Biery from coming under fire. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who hadn’t yet officially announced his run for president, called Biery’s decision “reprehensible” and an “inappropriate federal encroachment into the lives of Americans.” His state’s attorney general, Greg Abbott, joined the South Texas district in helping fight the case.

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