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DEVELOPMENTS: Year 2000 to 2002

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Recent court cases, negotiations, and state laws affecting prayer activities inside public school buildings are listed below. Other court rulings on separation of church and state issues outside the school building are listed elsewhere. These include prayer at public school sports events, graduation ceremonies etc. Some of these laws are clearly unconstitutional. They place local school boards in a difficult position. If they refuse to implement these laws, their funding may be cut. If they follow the laws, they become vulnerable to lawsuits that they will undoubtedly lose. The cost of these court actions could impoverish small school districts.

bullet2000-FEB-1: Virginia: Moment of silence: According to ReligionToday for FEB-2, the Virginia Senate voted 28 to 11 to approve a bill that requires teachers to hold up to a minute of silence. Part of the bill reads: "At the commencement of the first class of each day in all grades in all public schools, the teacher in charge of the room in which such class is held shall announce that a period of silence, not to exceed one minute in duration, shall be observed for meditation, prayer or reflection; during any such period of meditation, prayer or reflection, silence shall be maintained, and no other activities shall be performed." The bill has been passed and takes effect on JUL-1. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Warren Barry (R) said that it is an effort to reduce violence in schools. The governor, James Gilmore (R) said that the moment of silence would not infringe on students' rights. He called it "a good way to help instill character." Critics say it is an unconstitutional method of bringing prayer into the schools. Meanwhile, FBI and U.S. Department of Justice statistics indicate that violent incidents in public high schools are declining.
bullet2000-FEB-7: Georgia: Prayer: AAANEWS reported that Judy Poag (D) has proposed bill in the legislature would require public school districts to display the Ten Commandments. Those who refuse to do so would be penalized financially and perhaps even have their state funding cut off. Another bill would permit "student-initiated spoken prayer during the school day." Teachers would be prohibited from "participating in or actively supervising such prayer." Under this bill, a student could presumably interrupt class with a prayer and continue the disruption for hours while the teacher would be powerless to interrupt. Both bills are clearly unconstitutional.
bullet2000-FEB-11: Wisconsin school Bible club: On 2000-FEB-10, two high school students and a parent initiated a lawsuit in federal court against the Kenosha School District. Principal Chester Pulaski had refused to allow members of the school's Bible club to include a cross on their mural. The suit alleges that the defendants allowed other school clubs to paint murals without school censorship. The German club's mural contains a flag; the Students Against Driving Drunk painting has a beer can, a hand and keys; the International Club's mural contains a globe. Even the Bible club was  allowed to include a heart, doves, praying hands and an open Bible on their mural. But allegedly, the principal would not allow a cross.

The suit says that "Principal Pulaski told Bible Club members that he was concerned for the safety of the school and he did not want a satanist club to form and put their symbol on the wall." [Author's note: The Equal Access Act appears to apply in this case. It guarantees that a Christian Bible club (or a student-led club of any other religion) has the right to exist at school and have equal access to meeting space, bulletin boards and other advertising space. Since the school already allows other clubs to mount murals containing symbols, it would seem that the Act requires the school district to permit a Christian cross symbol. ]
bullet2000-FEB-14: Texas: University Pagan group: According to the Houston Chronicle in Houston TX, there is a confrontation involving religious speech at a state sponsored school -- Stephen F. Austin State University. There are about 180 student groups at the university. A new group, made up of Wiccan students applied for recognition in 1999-FALL. Their certification was opposed by some Christians on campus. Sean Bradly, President of the Student Government Association called this the most heated issue of his 18 months in office. The final vote was 16 to 15 in favor of recognition. "...on Jan. 18, chalk drawings were placed around the University Center inviting students to Pagan meetings. A week and a half later, after the drawings had been scrubbed from the sidewalks, Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship hung its banner over the school entrance off North Street." It said: "This campus belongs to God...The Earth is the Lord's and everything in it, the world and all who live in it." (Psalms 24:1) The same message appeared in two full-page ads in the campus newspaper. Some students criticized the Christian banner because of church-state infringement. But University spokesman, James Hoard, stressed that the school allows student relatively complete freedom of speech. It treats all campus organizations equally.  He said: "We want free speech to be exercised. If the Pagan group wants to put up a sign, and the location is available, then it can."

2000-FEB-29: Michigan: Teacher suspended: Ring Lardner Middle school science teacher Cheril Malinowski was suspended for three days after loaning a Wiccan book to one of her students. The student was doing a report on herbal healing. The book in question is Scott Cunningham's "Wicca: A guide for the solitary practitioner" -- a very popular Wiccan book. Loaning any religious book to a student is a violation of the principle of separation of church and state, because the loan implies school support for a specific religion. Loaning of a Bible, Wiccan book or Qur'an are equally unconstitutional, unless the books are part of a comparative religion course. The school board suspended the teacher for three days. The student involved loaned the book to second student. The parents of the latter student, the Wozniaks, have stolen the book and have refused to return it. There are allegations that supporters of the teacher have issued threats against the Wozniak daughter and others. The Wozniaks claim that the book contains information on "Satanic rituals, pentagrams, daggers for sacrifice and how to build an altar." 1 [Author's note: The book does contain information on herbs. But it also has a great deal of information about Wicca, a Celtic-based Neopagan religion. It is the latter content is what got the teacher into trouble. The book, in reality, contains Wiccan religious information, no Satanic information, information on pentagrams and on the construction of a Wiccan sacred altar. It describes an athame which is a double-sided knife used in rituals and never used to cut anything other than air. Wiccans have been known to sacrifice a peach or an apple, but never animals or humans.]


2000-MAR-3: California: Unconstitutional prayer: According to the CNV News Service, a Kindergarten class in the Pajaro Valley School District was led by a teacher to sing a song during a forestry field trip. Students sat on the ground and sang, "Where I sit is holy. Holy is the ground. Forest, mountain, river--listen to the sound. Great spirits circle all around me...Ancient mother, I hear you calling...Ancient mother, I hear your laughter. Ancient mother, I taste your tears." One child's parents have filed suit against the school district after they were denied a public hearing on the prayer. [Author's note: The CNV News Service identified the prayer as New-Age. It seems more like a Neopagan or Aboriginal prayer.]


2000-MAR-29: Texas: Demonstration: A "Respect our Constitution" rally was held in Austin TX from 3 to 5 PM, starting at the Texas State Capitol, and marching to the Governor's Mansion. The rally will be in support of separation of church and state, and in opposition to compulsory public school prayer.


2000-MAR-31: Kentucky: Religion course in schools: A Joint Resolution of the Kentucky General Assembly was passed. It would require public schools in the state to include lessons on Christian influences on America, and that calls for the display of the Ten Commandments in schools and on State Capitol grounds. The American Jewish Congress urged Governor Paul Patton to veto the resolution. Their statement said, in part that the resolution: "clearly requires Kentucky to violate the First Amendment separation of church and state.  Moreover, it creates an exclusionary state in which Kentuckians who do not share the values specified by the General Assembly will be made to feel like outsiders in the society around them....Kentucky citizens of good will must act now to ensure that the dangerous trends reflected in the resolution do not fester and gain potency; that the objective of restoring a 'Christian  America' is recognized as incompatible with American democratic practice; and that Kentucky recognizes its duty to  treat citizens of all faiths equally. By vetoing this legislation, you can lead the way in making it clear to Kentuckians that pride in one's religion, if mishandled, can easily become intolerance for the beliefs of others."


2000-MAY-14: Washington DC demonstration: Truth Broadcasting of South Carolina sponsored a "Take a Stand" rally on the mall in Washington DC to call for prayer in public schools. Darrell Scott, father of Rachael Scott, one of 13 students killed at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, stated:  "Legislation and politicians are not where the answers lie -- the answer lies in prayer and our youth." Organizers said that they received fewer participants than they had hoped for. 2 Truth Broadcasting circulates a petition from their web site. 


2000-MAY-19: Texas: Students' speech restricted: A lawsuit was filed on behalf of two middle school students, Angela and Amber Harbison, against the Lynn Lucas Middle School in the Willis Independent School District, about 50 miles north of Houston TX. Teacher Sara Flottman allegedly took the girls' Bibles, shouted "This is garbage," and tossed them into a wastebasket. In three unrelated incidences, teachers at the school had students remove book covers with the Ten Commandments printed on them. The school district allegedly justified its action by saying the book covers constituted hate speech, and that the school had a policy against students distributing literature without permission. In early June, Judy Thornton, spokesperson for the Willis Independent School District, released a statement saying that  "The district has investigated the allegations and determined that they are untrue."


2000-JUN-13: Virginia: Moment of silence: The Virginia legislature passed a bill that affirms students' rights to silently pray, meditate or reflect at the start of each school day. The law reads: "Each pupil may, in the exercise of his or her individual choice, meditate, pray or engage in any other silent activity which does not interfere with, distract, or impede other pupils in the like exercise of individual choice." On JUN-13, the Virginia Education Department recommended that teachers announce: "As we begin another day, let us pause for a moment of silence." The guidelines also said that if a student asks whether they can pray, the teacher should say "yes." Some lawmakers are furious that the guidelines do not require teachers to specify prayer as an option. Del. Robert Marshall was quoted as saying "This is a very tepid response to a moral crisis in this country. If they're so timid about mentioning the word "prayer," I'm doubtful about what it [the moment of silence] will do." Del. Lionell Spruill said: "I'm definitely going to bring it back to put some teeth into it. We have a mandate from both sides of the aisle to use the word 'prayer.' "

According to CNS News, "Virginia's Deputy Attorney General warned against crossing a 'constitutional barrier' by [having teachers mention]...prayer in school. State legal experts believe that any suggestion to pray - or not to pray - would lead to a successful legal challenge. Instead, the school superintendents are being instructed to send a copy of the law to each student's home. The law clearly states that the silent time is for reflection, prayer, meditation and any other silent activity. The Attorney General has promised to come to the assistance of any school that is sued in court over this law.


2000-JUN-19: Tennessee: Freedom of speech: The Chattanooga school district sold 300 bricks for $50 each as a fund-raising event. They have been placed in a walkway at the entrance to the school. Thomas Home and family bought one and asked that it be inscribed with the name of their daughter, Hope, and "To the Glory of God." The school refused; the Homes sued. Stuart Roth, spokesperson for the American Center for Law and Justice, commented that the school has "clearly run afoul of the free-speech clause of the Constitution here...Once a governmental subdivision opens up its facilities or its property for a broad range of community uses and expressive activities, it cannot censor a religious message." [Author's note: The message is clearly sponsored by the Home family, and is not a religious statement imposed by the school. The school has probably already allowed many secular inscriptions on other bricks. The message on the brick at the entrance to the school, paid for by a family in the community is analogous to a prayer spoken by a student at the flagpole.  Christian, non-Christian and secular statements should be allowed if any inscriptions at all are permitted. The case appears to be a simple freedom of speech issue.]


2000-AUG-7: New York: Freedom of speech: According to ReligionToday news summary, a case similar to the Chattanooga incident (described above) has occurred at Mexico High School, in Oswego County, northern New York state. Parents bought bricks for installation at the entrance to the high school. One person arranged for a brick to read "Jesus Saves." After some local residence complained, the school board decided that bricks containing political, religious or profane expressions would be prohibited. This appears to be a clear violation of the First Amendment's protection of freedom of speech. The Rutherford Institute, a Fundamentalist Christian legal defense organization, is expected to file a lawsuit.


2000-AUG-8: California: Equal access: According to Focus on the Family:
Members of the Alive Club, a Bible study student club at San Gorgonio High School in San Bernardino, supplied entertainment to students at their quad area at lunch time. It consisted of religious testimonies and singing. Hearing the words "God" and "Jesus," the principal literally pulled the plug of their PA system. He said that they could not entertain in this way because some students might be offended. However, other, secular, student clubs had been allowed to entertain at the quad in the past. Pacific Justice Attorney, Brad Dacus, complained on behalf of the students. School superintendent Art Delgado apologized, saying: "What is good for one is good for all, and so if we are going to allow any groups to be a part of what goes on during those lunch periods, similarly, we must allow the Alive Club." [Author's note: Art Delgado's comment is an excellent summary of the federal Equal Access law.] 3


2000-OCT-10: New York: Rental of school facilities: According to ReligionToday: The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case this winter in a curious case involving the after-hour rental of public school facilities to community groups. The Milford NY local school board refused to rent facilities to a Fundamentalist Christian group, the Good News Club. The club uses readings from the Bible, music, prayer, etc. It is one of a chain of such clubs across the U.S. affiliated with Child Evangelism Fellowship.  The school's policy is to rent rooms "social, civic, and recreational meetings and entertainment events and other uses," but not to religious groups. The federal trial judge and the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals both ruled against the club, apparently because of two factors:
bulletThe children involved are quite young, and might not understand that the religious instruction was not part of the regular school day..
bulletThe Club meets right after school classes. That is, the children leave their school room, and go immediately to another room for religious classes. The concern here is that some children might think that religious instruction was part of the public school system.

bullet2001-JUN-11 (approx): New York: Rental of school facilities: The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Good News Club, thus overruling the decisions of the lower courts. The school board is now considering placing limits on the times that its facilities are available for use by outside groups. If, for example, it only allows groups to rent its rooms after 5 PM, then the students would not be able to walk directly from their regular classes to the location of the outside religious instruction. This would have the effect of isolating religious instruction from school instruction in the minds of the children.
bullet2001-JUN-11 (approx): Louisiana: Rental of school facilities: A Federal Court ruled that the school district of St. Tammany Parish, LA, could ban the Christian Coalition from using its facilities after school hours. The school district has allowed the use of its facilities by homeowners associations, the Folsom Native Plant Society, dog obedience training classes, and thousands of other groups. But it rejected the application of the Christian Coalition. The Supreme Court took up the case and instructed the lower court to reconsider the case.
bullet2001-OCT-5: CA: The American Civil Liberties Union ask for sign removal: The ACLU asked that a "God Bless America" sign be removed from a marquee in front of the Breen Elementary School in Rocklin, CA. They feel that it is "a hurtful, divisive message ... that is a clear violation of the California and U.S. constitutions,  as well as the California Education Code." 250 people, parents, students and administrators, held a rally at the school. Attorney Phillip Trujillo, said the words don't violate laws on the separation of church and state.  "It's simply not a religious expression...It is, instead, a patriotic expression."
bullet2002-JAN-27: VA: Grace prohibited at military institute: Two students of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) objected to the student-led, non-denominational Christian prayer given before meals. This had been a 50 year tradition at the Institute, which is run by the state. With the help of the ACLU, they sued the VMI in 2001-MAY. A U.S. district judge ruled for the plaintiffs, because the "grace" violated the principle of separation of church and state. The decision will be appealed. 4
bullet2002-APR-1: CA: Students freedom of speech violated by principal: A male student in second grade at a Palm Desert, CA public school participated in a school-organized exchange of gifts. He gave presents of conservative Christian videos which promote creation science. The principal allegedly prohibited the student from distributing the religiously-based videos, because they could disrupt classroom operations, invade others' rights and be potentially coercive. Later, the principal permitted the student to distribute other, non-religious, tapes. Stuart Roth, of the American Center for Law and Justice, said that the student's free speech rights had been violated. He said: "What distinguishes America from nations that....we're at war (with) is our ability to follow a Constitution which allows us the right to free speech. He has appealed the case to the school board. Roth said: "Many people may look at this and say it's just about one second-grader, just about passing out videos. But what it's really about is the ability of our children in public schools to not be silenced and squelched and intimidated because they're Christians and because they have a religious perspective." 5

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Related essays on this web site:

bulletThe national motto: "In God we Trust."
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  1. Debra Haight, "Book on Witchcraft leads to suspension of Niles teacher," Herald Palladium, St Joseph-Benton MI, 2000-MAR-1. Online at: http://www.heraldpalladium.com/display/inn_news/news2
  2. Truth Broadcasting Company has a web site at: http://www.truthbroadcasting.org/ 
  3. Karen Johnson, "Bible club vindicated," Focus on the Family, at: http://www.family.org/cforum/fnif/news/A0012502.html
  4. Charles MiVille, "Federal Judge: No More Prayer at VMI," Focus on the Family, at: http://www.family.org/cforum/fnif/news/A0019416.html
  5. Bob Kellogg, "Boy Stopped from Distributing Creation Video," Family News in Focus, at: http://www.family.org/cforum/fnif/news/a0020169.html
  6. Allie Martin, "Case of Christian 'Candy Cane' Kid Comes Up in Court," Agape Press, 2003-JAN-10, at: http://headlines.agapepress.org/
  7. Jim Brown, "School Sweets Lead to Suspensions; Bible Club Members File Lawsuit," Agape Press, 2003-JAN-10, at: http://headlines.agapepress.org

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Copyright 1995 to 2003 incl. by the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Created: 1995-APR-27
Latest update 2003-JAN-
Author: B.A. Robinson

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