ACLU targets prayer at school board
By The Associated Press
LYNCHBURG, Va. — While most controversy
over school prayer has centered on praying inside school buildings, a federal
court ruling could make prayer at school board meetings extinct.
"We have always felt that prayers
(at) school board meetings violated the separation of church and state,"
said Kent Willis, director of the Virginia chapter of the American Civil
The ACLU didn't pursue the issue
until it felt it was on firm legal ground.
"This new case changes things dramatically,"
Willis said. "It would appear that what many school boards ... are doing
The ACLU, he said, will be examining
prayer at school board meetings and asking boards to stop the practice.
"When a young person is in a formal
environment, it is very important that no impression is given that the
government is promoting religion," Willis said. "If the state promotes
religion in general or any religion in particular, because it is so powerful,
it is likely to have a coercive effect."
The 6th U.S. Court of Appeals ruled
in March that it was unconstitutional for the Cleveland, Ohio, Board of
Education to open each meeting with a prayer. A major factor in the decision
was the presence of students as representatives on the board and in attendance
at the meetings.
Robert M. O'Neil, a professor of
law at the University of Virginia and director of the Thomas Jefferson
Center for the Protection of Free Expression, said prayer at school board
meetings is "in some sense coercive to both the staff of an institution
or the public.
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