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Notable Lawsuits Over School Prayer in Maine

Saturday, 20 Jun 2015 08:05 PM

School prayer sometimes becomes an issue even during extracurricular activities. Public school officials and students in Maine found out brief religious ceremonies outside of the classroom violate the establishment clause in the First Amendment.

The establishment clause separates government from religion or prohibits government from favoring one religion over another.

For 16 years, students at South Bristol Elementary School in Maine participated in the “blessing of the fleet” for their handmade wooden row boats during the summer, according to the Bangor Daily News. The event is part of the boat-building program for students in the boating community of South Bristol.

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Eighth-graders at the school were planning for a prayer from a pastor as part of the traditional launching ceremony for their boats in June 2013. However, a month earlier they were informed about a letter school authorities had received from the Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The Washington, D.C.-based organization had received a complaint about prayers during the ceremony. The letter pointed out that it was unconstitutional for a public school to sponsor prayers at events.

The school’s principal, Scott White, noted that the pastor usually talked briefly and mentioned God during the blessing, but didn’t ask anyone to participate. Still, lawyers for the school district and school officials avoided the possibility of a lawsuit by omitting the prayer.

Changes were made to the traditional launching of the boats at Bittersweet Landing to include a “ceremonial launch speech,” and still included the smashing of the bottle over the bow.

White said many people in the community were unhappy about the blessing being removed, but school officials had no choice. “You can’t continue with a tradition that is in violation of the First or any other amendment,” he told the Bangor Daily News.

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Lawsuits resulted from parents who were hoping their children could experience school prayer in private schools through vouchers during the 1990s, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Several school districts in Maine do not have public high schools, so the students attended nearby public or nonsectarian private schools.

In a 1998 case, some parents filed a lawsuit for the children to attend religious schools with vouchers. A district court ruled against the parents and a circuit court upheld the ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court denied review of the case in 1999 and the ruling stood.

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School prayer sometimes becomes an issue even during extracurricular activities. Public school officials and students in Maine found out brief religious ceremonies outside of the classroom violate the establishment clause in the First Amendment.
school prayer, Maine, lawsuits
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2015-05-20
Saturday, 20 Jun 2015 08:05 PM
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