School district officials reversed a Wyoming high school principal's decision to block students from praying in the school cafeteria during lunchtime after a Christian advocacy firm threatened to take legal action if the students were forbidden from exercising their religious liberties. The matter started this fall, and the students have prayed at school at least once since the Equal Access Act decision was announced Thursday.
On Oct. 15 a small group of students, led by children of Circle G Cowboy Church Pastor Marty Roark, gathered in the back of the Glendo High School cafeteria to pray over their lunchtime meal, reports The Christian Post. The student who offered the prayer spoke quietly and after the prayer was over, the students sat down and ate their lunch without causing any disruption, stated the Post.
Glendo Principal Stanetta Twiford informed one of the students after lunch that she and the other students were not allowed to pray during lunch because it could be construed as inflicting their religion onto the other students. She instead instructed them to get permission to go into the hallway or gym to do their prayer gathering out of the view of other students. The students were also told by a social studies teacher that praying in the cafeteria was a violation of church and state, according to the Post.
After the students told Roark not being allowed to pray in the cafeteria during lunch, he sent the principal information explaining that children had the legal right to pray during lunch.
Roark reportedly approached Twiford at a school basketball game within the same week as the exchange of information, and she again "rejected the request," indicating that allowing them to pray in the cafeteria would force other students to be a "captive audience."
Roark then left messages for Platte County School District No. 1 Superintendent Dennis Fischer, who upheld Twiford's action by citing the American Civil Liberties Union, stating school officials have the right to stop prayer gatherings in the cafeteria because it would have "compelled other students to participate."
Roark contacted the Alliance Defending Freedom, which sent a demand letter on Dec. 4 to Fischer, Twiford and the school district's attorney stating that the school has two weeks to allow the students to pray or it would consider filing a lawsuit against the school district, reports FaithIt.
"We write to inform you that this cafeteria prayer ban violates the First Amendment. The First Amendment requires schools to allow student speech so long as the speech is not materially and substantially disruptive," the letter written by ADF attorney Jonathan Scruggs states.
"Students in the cafeteria are not captive audiences because they can leave at any time or turn away from the quiet prayer in the corner."
"Further, students in the cafeteria are no more a captive audience than students in the hallway or students on a playground," the letter adds.
"Contrary to ACLU's analysis, high school students can indeed pray in the cafeteria in the presence of others, and praying students need not be shuffled off to broom closets. The First Amendment protects the right to pray, not just in private but in public too."
Last Thursday, Fischer sent a follow-up letter to ADF explaining that the school district has reversed its decision and will now allow the students to pray in the cafeteria during lunch.