Today, as people all over the country gather in public places to observe the annual National Day of Prayer, the debate over prayer in schools continues to captivate federal, state and local governments.
<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Texas high school students received the answer to a prayer when a federal appeals court reversed a lower court’s decision—as well as its own dismissal—of a case over prayer in school.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
Then-senior Marian Ward, who had been barred from leading prayer at a sporting event, brought a suit against the Santa Fe Independent School District in 1999.
The appeals court had sent the case back to the court of U.S. District Judge Sim Lake, who initially ruled that the case was moot, citing the 1999 Supreme Court landmark case Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, in which the court ruled that student-led prayer at campus events was contrary to the separation of church and state, Associated Press reported.
Lake had also dismissed the case because Ward had already graduated and the school district had done away with its policy against prayer.
The appeals court, although it initially agreed with Lake’s ruling, concluded on April 9 that the case shouldn’t be dismissed because Ward was seeking damages for a perceived constitutional violation, AP reported.
“I’m glad that I will finally be able to get a decision on the merits of my case which will hopefully help schools understand that it is just as unconstitutional to prohibit student faith-based speech as to require it,” Ward told AP.
Allowing silent prayer in school is also up for debate in state governments.
Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster planned to sign a bill giving the nod to silent prayer in school at the adjournment of a special session April 12, according NBC affiliate WDSU in New Orleans, La.
In the meantime, North Carolina Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler, one of seven Republican candidates for governor, spoke in favor of changing state law to allow silent prayer in North Carolina schools during a recent visit to Greenville, N.C., local station WYFF.
Mealtime prayers are also under scrutiny at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., AP reported. Naval Academy officials are reviewing the tradition of prayer before lunch due to a recent appellate court ruling that declared mealtime prayer at the Virginia Military Institute unconstitutional.
The tradition dates back to the academy’s inception in 1845.
Jared Porter is a journalism student at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.