Liberty...An American Heritage
School Board Ruling Praised in
On October 20, 2000, Alabama
Attorney General Bill Pryor called a federal appeals court ruling allowing
student-led prayers at public schools a "victory for the First
The decision by the Eleventh U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals reaffirming that a federal judge went too far in restricting
student prayers in a northeast Alabama school system was praised by
He continued, "This ruling is a victory
for the First Amendment. It is a victory for public school students
to pray and express their religious beliefs."
Unanimously, the Eleventh U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals ruled that U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent wrongly restricted
students' religious expression in 1997 when he imposed restrictions
including limiting religious references in a valedictorian's graduation
address last year.
In light of a U.S. Supreme Court decision
restricting student prayer prior to football games in Texas, the court
ordered the appeals court to reconsider its decision earlier this year.
There was no conflict with the Supreme
Court ruling because student-initiated prayers should not be considered
government sponsorship of religion concluded the three-judge panel of
the circuit court on October 19, 2000. The court said, "So long
as prayer is genuinely student-initiated, and not the product of any
school policy which actively or surreptitiously encourages it, the speech
is private and it is protected. The three-judge panel ruled, "Therefore
if nothing in the Constitution
prohibits any public school student
from voluntarily praying at any time before, during or after the school
day, then it does not prohibit prayer aloud or in front of others, as
in the case of an audience assembled for some other purpose."
On October 20, 2000, the decision was called
"a monumental victory for free speech," by the American Center
for Law and Justice, a conservative non-profit public interest law group.
The center's chief counsel, Jay A. Sekulow,
who argued the case before the appeals court on behalf of the state
of Alabama said, "We believed all along that the case in Alabama
involving the federal court order restricting student prayer was unconstitutional."
The decision "sends a strong signal
that student-led, student-initiated prayer is still constitutionally
protected in this country," added Sekulow.
The original lawsuit was filed by Michael
Chandler, an assistant school principal who said his son Jessie was
being pressured to join in religious activities. Activities including
organized prayer in classrooms and distribution of Bibles on campus
were also complaints listed by Chandler.
After the October 20th ruling, Chandler
said he would probably appeal the Eleventh Circuit decision. He is now
retired from the DeKalb County Alabama school system.
("Alabama Praises School Prayer Ruling,"
United Press International, October 21, 2000)
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