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Christians Do End-Run Around School Prayer Ruling.

School prayer advocates were out in full force during the first weekend of high school football. Religionists in Texas, Mississippi, West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina responded to a "spontaneous prayer" campaign organized by local pastors and Christian broadcasters.

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in June that schools may not lead school prayers, even if initiated by a student chaplain chosen by peers. In Santa Fe, Texas, one Catholic family and one Mormon family brought the case to challenge a school policy of allowing students to elect someone to lead the benediction. In reaction, about 200 in the crowd of 4,500 at Santa Fe High School's home opener recited the Lord's Prayer. "We weren't trying to get everybody on the same line," said a spokesman for the group No Pray No Play. "If other groups want to pray that way, let them put their Buddhas or their wooden statues up there and pray to their dead gods."

In Hendersonville, North Carolina, Christians recited a sectarian prayer. At Batesburg-Leesville High School in South Carolina, the president of the student body seized the microphone in the stadium press box and said a prayer, undeterred by the possibility of a lawsuit.

At Bogue Chitto High School in Mississippi, Scott Edwards, a wide receiver and son of a Baptist preacher, is part of a movement to legally restore school prayer at his stadium. "We have a very strong Christian atmosphere here," the 16-year-old student said. "I feel like people have a right to express their Christian views. This is a community thing." (The town has a Baptist church directly across from the 500-student school.)

Legal scholars warned that some school districts could be inviting legal challenges by allowing such "voluntary" prayer sessions. Two students had called the American Civil Liberties Union's South Carolina branch to discuss the possible violation of church-state separation at the Batesburg-Leesville game.

Most critics, including some representatives of the ACLU, complain that the practice flouts the intention of the Court's June 19 decision. But they contend that, as long as school authorities remain neutral and uninvolved, the prayer is constitutionally protected speech.

Not everyone agrees, however. "It seems to me that a planned spontaneous prayer cannot be spontaneous and violates the court's ruling," said David Ingerbretsen of the ACLU. "If this planned, spontaneous prayer happens, it forces everyone to hear that prayer or to participate in it."

Mississippi radio talk-show host Paul Ott could not care less about whether the practice is legal. "We don't think this is breaking the law, but if it is breaking the law, I don't think they are going to take thousands of people to jail," he said.

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Author:Allen Jr., Norm R.
Publication:Free Inquiry
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2000
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