Washington School Reverses Suspensions Against Praying Students

2 05 2007

Filed under: Church and State, First Amendment, Liberty Counsel, Evergreen district

If a group of students in a public school decide to pray together in a common area does that violate the Establishment clause and warrant suspension? The Evergreen school district in Washington thought so, that is until Liberty Counsel got involved and had the suspensions reversed.

Here’s a piece of what local coverage had to say:

Vancouver, WA – Evergreen Public Schools will allow a small group of students to resume a prayer circle inside the Heritage High School commons before class each morning.

Evergreen agreed to purge all record of student suspensions stemming from a confrontation on March 2. The district also will allow group prayer so long as it stays low-key and doesn’t block traffic in the busy main corridor of the 2,400-student school.

The Liberty Counsel, legal arm for the Jerry Falwell-founded Liberty University in southern Virginia, had quickly joined the fray. It blamed a student’s complaint for squelching the prayer group’s First Amendment rights and vowed to mount a legal battle.

Battle and WON! Here’s Liberty Counsel’s press release:

Twelve Heritage High School students, who were suspended in March for praying together in the large commons area of their cafeteria, have been vindicated. Liberty Counsel represented several of the students in an appeal of the suspensions to the Evergreen School District. As a result, the suspensions will be purged from their files and there will be no negative impact on their academic records.

The District has also agreed to recognize the students’ right to pray in the cafeteria when other students are gathered there before school. The cafeteria commons area is a large area that will easily accommodate groups as large as 20 students without blocking access for other students. In addition, the students will be provided a room to start a club.

The students will begin praying today, May 1, which is significant for some of the Russian immigrant students who were suspended, as this is “May Day,” the day the former Communist Soviet Union celebrated Communism.

Here’s how the story developed:

A few weeks before their suspension, the students tried to start a prayer club to meet before school, but they met with resistance from Vice Principal Alex Otoupal. Since the students understood that the school would not permit a club, they decided to gather together as individuals in the cafeteria before school to pray, but they were sent outside in the cold by the vice principal after one Satanist student complained to school officials. After the students insisted on praying in the cafeteria, they were suspended.

Mathew D. Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, had this to say:

“Students have the constitutional right to gather together to pray before school, just as they can gather to discuss sports, music or movies. In these days of discord and violence, schools should know better than to ban students from praying. What a terrible message would have been sent to these students, some of whom immigrated from the Communist Soviet Union. Now they have learned that one person can make a difference in America when standing up for religious freedom.”

You never hear of schools suspending Muslim students from praying to Allah at school. Who can blame them? With the reaction of radical Islamists and CAIR, their very lives would be threatened. Hopefully Vice Principal Otoupal has learned the difference between an “Establishment violation” and “Free exercise thereof” so that next time, should these students force their peers to participate, then he can feel free to dole out suspensions.

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