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Education Reporter

Appeals Court Approves
Student-Led School Prayer

MONTGOMERY, AL - The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July to allow student-initiated prayer in the DeKalb County, Alabama public schools. The court upheld a prior restriction against school officials leading prayers or conducting other religious activities. The ruling overturns a portion of U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent's 1997 injunction, which not only banned teacher-led devotionals and the distribution of Bibles, but also student-led prayer.

The case originated with former Valley Head High School vice principal, Michael Chandler, who filed a lawsuit claiming that students and school officials in the DeKalb County School District were "unconstitutionally" promoting Christianity. Judge DeMent agreed.

Both Chandler and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are considering an appeal of the Circuit Court's decision because they fear "how far student-initiated activities could go." ACLU attorney Pamela Sumners expressed relief that "school teachers still can't grab students and ask them to pray in a class, which is what they were doing in DeKalb County."

Sumners claims the decision means "a bunch of bad legal advice will be handed out," and predicts that teachers will end up participating in religious activities at school. "We'll be right back where we were," she stated. "We'll have to reinvent the wheel that the Supreme Court invented for us in 1963. (Associated Press, 7-14-99)

"The Supreme Court's 1963 ruling was indeed judge-invented law contrary to the original intent of our Constitution," agrees Alabama pro-family leader Eunie Smith. "The resulting denial of the free exercise of religion and of God Himself has left us with the terrible trauma of student violence and rebellion that will only end when we are again free to honor God as He is acknowledged in our Declaration of Independence. The removal from the classroom of the positive influence of our Judeo-Christian ethic, upon which this nation was founded, has brought disaster upon many of our young people."

Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor called the Circuit Court's ruling "a victory for all the children in the public schools of our state, that they do not surrender their constitutional rights when they attend a public school in Alabama. They do not surrender their religious faith and their religious beliefs." (Birmingham News, 7-15-99)

Pryor indicated that he expects the ruling to stand, and vowed to work with state school superintendent Ed Richardson to "write guidelines the public schools can follow."

When Judge DeMent issued his injunction against the DeKalb County schools in 1997, outraged parents organized protest marches and rallies, and some called for his impeachment. One parent founded a group called "United We Stand" in opposition to the ban. Parents and residents now say they "feel vindicated."

United We Stand's Gary Holcombe told the Birmingham News: "We didn't think we could change anything, but we thought we should rise up. We always thought the injunction went too far. We'll surely praise the Lord for this [ruling]."

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