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Court rules against prayer group meeting at local school

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             A lawsuit was filed in September 2006 by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a family identified as the “Does” who sent their son to Lakeview Elementary. The lawsuit asked that the court order a halt to what the group known as the Praying Parents were doing and to prevent Lakeview Elementary officials from supporting their activities in the future.

            Praying Parents, a group that met informally and does not have any particular religious affiliation, may meet on the school property at Lakeview “in the same manner as other groups,” Echols said, and added the members may also hand out flyers and such with information about what they do in the same manner as other groups.

            Echols said in his ruling, which is 59 pages in length, that the Praying Parents’ “overtly religious purpose…overshadowed any secular purpose it might have had. The effect of the group’s predominant religious purpose was to advance Christianity at Lakeview.”

            An official with the ACLU said the Does and the organization were victorious in the ruling and called it “strongly worded.”

            Hedy Wienberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee, said the decision showed that “wrongdoing” had occurred at Lakeview and that the school promoted religious activities while school was in session.

            The Does’ son is Jewish. John Doe, the father, is Christian, and the mother, Jane Doe, is Jewish. The filed suit in the belief that the school endorsed Christian activities on the West Wilson County campus.

            The parents’ group had been allowed to hold meetings on the Lakeview property, they could be in the halls while school was in session and could also leave notes the mailboxes of teachers telling them the parents had been praying for them.

            The ACLU said these activities were done with the approval of school system and school officials.

            Echols in his ruling said the parents’ activities at Lakeview Elementary caused the staff “to become excessively entangled with religion,” and said that was a violation of the First Amendment and its prohibition of a state established religion.

            The judge among the ways the school approved of the religious activities on campus was by their wearing stickers that said “I Prayed” during class time after a National Day of Prayer observance was held in 2006.

            He said that sent a message to Christians and non-Christians that they identified with others who met at the school to pray on that particular day.

            Echols said fliers and signs from the parents’ group must now include a message that the school system does not endorse or sponsor their events. A former official at the school said that went into effect in 2007.

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