Judge sets restrictions for Tenn. school prayer

Judge sets restrictions for Tenn. school prayer

By JOE EDWARDS Associated Press Writer NASHVILLE (AP) — Parents can continue to gather to pray at a public elementary school as long as they are held to the same standards as any other group meeting at the school, a federal judge ruled Thursday. U.S. District Judge Robert L. Echols made the ruling after parents claimed the Wilson County school system east of Nashville was promoting Christianity by allowing a group of parents to pray and pass out fliers to students on campus. The ACLU filed the lawsuit in September 2006 on behalf of an anonymous Lakeview Elementary student and his parents, asking the court to stop the Praying Parents’ activities and prevent the school from supporting them in the future. Echols said the Praying Parents, a small, informal group without any religious affiliation, can meet on school property “in the same manner as other groups.” Similarly, the judge said the group can distribute materials about its activities to the same extent as other groups. “The overtly religious purpose of the group overshadowed any secular purpose it might have had,” the judge wrote in his 59-page decision. “The effect of the group’s predominant religious purpose was to advance Christianity at Lakeview.” The ACLU claimed victory with the ruling. “This important decision clearly states that private groups like the Praying Parents cannot serve as surrogates for the public school and promote religious activities during the school day,” said Hedy Weinberg, Tennessee executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. School officials couldn’t immediately be reached Thursday after office hours. There was no home listing for Jim Duncan, the school system director, and a message left at a listing for Mike Jennings, the school system’s lawyer, was not immediately returned. The lawsuit also claimed that a nativity scene and prayers given as part of Thanksgiving holiday instruction promoted Christianity. The judge ruled the nativity scene and prayers must be presented “in an unbiased and objective manner without sectarian indoctrination.” Echols said Lakeview administrators, teachers and staff must follow all written policies of the Wilson County Board of Education concerning religious activities. ——— Associated Press Writer Beth Campbell in Louisville, Ky., contributed to this story. Published in The Messenger 5.30.08

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