School district drops plan to post Lord’s Prayer

Thursday, September 23, 1999

A Virginia school district has backed off a plan to post a Christian prayer in all its classrooms, but will continue to pursue a mandatory moment of silence each morning for prayer or meditation.

In early September, an evangelical preacher and 175 of his followers persuaded the Appomattox County School Board to vote on a policy requiring the superintendent of the four-school district to post the Lord's Prayer in classrooms and to open each day with a moment of silence. The school board unanimously supported the minister's proposal.

Before the policy was implemented, however, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia contacted the school board's chairman with a warning that posting the Lord's Prayer would violate the First Amendment principle of separation of church and state.

Late last week, the school board re-introduced a policy that would only require a moment of silence in the classrooms. The policy did not mention the Lord's Prayer. According to the policy unanimously approved by the board, students would be allowed to “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.”

Superintendent Walter F. Krug declared at the board's Sept. 16 meeting that the new policy was constitutionally permissible.

Kent Willis, executive director of the Virginia ACLU, said that as long as the new policy is not intended to permit official prayer in the district's schools, it should pass constitutional muster.

“If the school board's final product clearly eradicates the board's legislative history by making it clear the purpose is to permit student contemplation other than prayer, then it would be constitutional,” Willis said. “Certainly citizens had the right to bring forth suggestions for a moment-of-silence policy, but it's the responsibility of the city's officials to make sure the policy conformed to constitutional strictures.”

The school board will read and vote on the policy again at an October meeting before it is implemented.