Trial to begin in school prayer lawsuit
NASHVILLE (AP) — A trial was set to begin today after local school district officials voted to reject a settlement with parents who claim the district promoted Christianity by allowing a parents’ prayer group to meet regularly at an elementary school.
According to court documents, a group called the Praying Parents met at Lakewood Elementary School to pray for the school, teachers and students.
While their meetings were behind closed doors, the group gave fliers promoting its activities to students and gave at least one student a card saying the group had prayed for the student. There was also a link to the Praying Parents’ Web site on the school’s site.
The Praying Parents held two before-school prayer events that also were promoted in the school, according to the complaint.
Plaintiff Jane Doe, parent of a student who attended kindergarten at the school in 2005-2006, complained to school administrators about the activities. According to the complaint, she was told Lakewood had a reputation as a religious school and the activities would continue, an allegation the school has denied.
The plaintiffs claim the only way to protect their child from Christian proselytizing at the school was to withdraw him from Lakewood and school him at home. They also have not sent a younger child to the school because of the same concerns.
“A reasonable observer could conclude that the Praying Parents wielded significant religious influence among the administration, faculty, staff and students,” Judge Robert Echols wrote in a memorandum denying a request to dismiss the suit.
The Wilson County School Board on Tuesday night voted 3-2 against accepting the settlement. Neither the county’s attorney nor the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the plaintiffs, would describe terms of the settlement.
Members of the Praying Parents have intervened in the suit as defendants, claiming the Does are violating their rights by attempting to deny them the exercise of religious freedom.
The Praying Parents are represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based legal fund that defends religious speech cases and was opposed to settling.
ADF senior attorney Nate Kellum said in a statement, “The proposed agreement between the ACLU and the school district demonstrates clear hostility toward Christians. … If accepted, ADF will object to the order and very likely proceed with litigation in that case or in a separate action.”
Published in The Messenger 12.12.07