American law does not require a separation of church and state, says the attorney general of Virginia.
The issue came up in July, when a state lawmaker, Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter of Prince William County, learned that education officials in Fairfax County had barred school employees from speaking at privately sponsored baccalaureate ceremonies. Lingamfelter sought an opinion from state Attorney General Judith W. Jagdmann.
In May, Fairfax County Public School Superintendent Jack Dale sent a memo to district employees, stating, “We must respect the rights of individuals to speak and pray, while not endorsing or appearing to endorse religion.”
Dale banned principals and other top officials from speaking at baccalaureates but said teachers may do so.
Lingamfelter insisted that was a violation of free speech rights. In her opinion, Jagdmann agreed.
Jagdmann asserted that as private citizens, school officials could legally take part in privately sponsored ceremonies. She went on to add, “It has become mistaken for fact and as a principle of law that the United States Constitution requires the ‘separation of church and state.’ Such presumptions are incorrect.”
Jagdmann’s assertion would come as quite a surprise to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has often spoken of the First Amendment as creating the separation of church and state.
Fairfax officials are reconsidering their policy in light of the opinion.