From : Susan Naidoff To : All Subject : School prayer alert Replies : -> #297 This article

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From : Susan Naidoff To : All Subject : School prayer alert Replies : -> #297 This article appeared in the New York Times on Fri. April 16, 1993: ROBERTSON TRYING AGAIN TO PUT PRAYER IN SCHOOLS by Michael deCourcy Hinds At Blue Ridge High School in Farmer City, Illinois, 63 of the 66 members of the Class of 1993 recently voted to say prayers during their graduation ceremony next month. School officials in the tiny farming community turned them down. But Pat Robertson, the tv evangelist, is hoping to use Farmer City, 90 miles SE of Peoria, as a test case in his campaign for prayer in public schools, an effort that has put the issue back on the agenda of school officials around the country as they plan for spring graduation ceremonies. No matter what they decide, many schools might be drawn into an expensive legal battle. The advocates for prayer in schools, led by Robertson, are threatening to sue boards that ban prayer at graduation ceremonies. Robertson is seeking a showdown over an apparent inconsistency in recent Federal court decisions on the issue. Opposing them are civil libertarians led by the ACLU. "We're really stuck in the middle," said Gwendolyn H. Gregory, deputy general counsel of the National School Boards Assoc. In Washington. What are school officals to do? Ms Gregory's organization, which represents nearly all school districts, has advised members that the best way to avoid expensive litigation would be to allocate a moment of silence "to solemnize" the graduation ceremony. But Ms Gregory said school officials must not suggest how people should use the time, as any reference to prayer would be unconstitutional. The legal tangle that gave Robertson his opening began last June, when the US Supreme Court ruled, in Lee v. Weisman, that a public school COULD NOT HAVE A MEMBER OF THE CLERGY OFFER A SCHOOL-APPROVED PRAYER AT A GRADUATION. That the Court rules in a 5-to-4 decision, amounted to an unconstitutional endorsement of religion by the state. As part of that decision, the High Court vacated an appellate court ruling in a Texas case, Jones v. Clear Creek, that had permitted "non-sectarian, non-proselytizing" prayers INITIATED BY STUDENTS AND LED BY STUDENTS. The Court sent that case back to the appellate court for reconsideration. But the lower court, The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, stood by its ruling. The panel of three judges ruled unanimously last Nov. that STUDENT-LED PRAYER, UNLIKE CLERGY-LED PRAYER THAT THE SUPREME COURT HAD BANNED, WAS CONSTITUTIONAL. The decision has been appealed again to the Supreme Court. Several constitutional scholars said in interviews that despite the recent rulings, the Supreme Court has consistently forbidden public schools to authorize any kind of prayer. That prohibition, they said, would also prevent a school district from authorizing students to initiate a prayer at graduation ceremonies. "The Supreme Court has taken the view for 30 years that you cannot turn any part of the activity of the school into a forum for prayer," said Stephen L. Carter, professor of law at Yale Law School and an expert on the separation of church and state. Many religious organizations support keeping prayer out of public schools, and they are baffled by the Fifth Circuit decision permitting student-led prayer, said Douglas Laycock, a professor of law at the Univ. of Texas Law School and a specialist in constitutional law and religious liberty. In Lee v. Weisman, Prof. Laycock filed a brief with the Supreme Court opposing clergy-led prayer in schools on behalf of 6 major religious organizations, including the American Jewish Congress, the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs and the National Council of Churches. "It looks like the Fifth Circuit is thumbing its nose at the Supreme Court," he said. It may be a bad decision, but it's a decision, and if I were Pat Robertson, I would run with it, too." The Fifth Circuist's ruling has the force only in Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Elsewhere, Federal courts have the discretion to follow it or not. Robertson, whose organization is based in Virginia Beach, Va., has promised to "INSURE THAT THE RIGHTS OF STUDENTS ARE PROTECTED AGAINST SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS OR THE MISGUIDED ZEALOTRY OF THE ACLU." The ACLU maintains that any school-approved prayer would be unconstitutional. "Mr Robertson is blinded by the results he wants," said Robert S. Peck, the organization's legislative counsel in Washington. In a mass mailing in Feb. and March, Robertson's legal organization, The American Center for Law and Justice, distributed more than 300,000 copies of a 3-page bulletin detailing the Fifth Circuit's decision regarding school prayer. Jay A. Sekulow, the center's chief counsel, said that among the recipients were the nation's 15,000 school districts. The center, which has 13 staff lawyers and 75 affiliated lawyers around the country, said on April 05 that it would send legal "SWAT teams" to communities around the country to inform officials that STUDENT-LED PRAYER IS A CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT. Mr Peck of the ACLU said that students could pray in graduation ceremonies only if SCHOOL OFFICIALS HAD NOT BEEN CONSULTED BEFOREHAND. Students could pray silently, or a class valedictorian might include a prayer in his or her speech as long as the speech had not been approved by school officials. Or school officials might designate some portion of the graduation ceremony as a public forum to exercise free speech. In Farmer City, where Robertson's group is hoping for its first test case, local religious leaders referred the students to Robertson law center after school officials denied their request for student-led prayer. The center then dispatched 2 lawyers to the community, which has a population of 1,700, and they discussed the issue with school officials and students. "From the materials they gave us, we gather we have the right to pray," said Chad Vance, the 18-year-old class treasurer. "They said they will support us in court if we decide to file a lawsuit. We're seeing the eroding away of our national heritage." Lelan G. Beckley, a soybean farmer who is president of the school board said he was sympathetic with the students' concern. "It's not what I believe in," he said, "it's the law that we have to govern ourselves by." On Monday, the board plans to consider overruling the school officials prayer decision. The ACLS has also been in touch with the board through a letter. "It said if we have prayer, we'll be looking at a lawsuit," Mr. Beckley said. ........................................................................ Whew....this seems to becoming a very messy situation, indeed. There does not seem to be any definitive decision on this whole matter that seems to stick for very long. When will the controversy end?


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