WHEATLAND, Wyo. – A Wyoming superintendent recently admitted that a local high school principal made a mistake when he told a student she couldn’t pray over her lunch in the cafeteria.
Platte County School District #1 Superintendent Dennis Fischer lifted a ban on student prayer last Thursday after three students challenged Glendo High School principal Stanetta Twiford’s assertion they could not pray in the cafeteria.
The incident occurred Oct. 15, when a group of student formed a prayer circle and prayed out loud before their lunch. Twiford allegedly told one of the students afterwards that the group needs permission to pray, and could not pray in the cafeteria, the Daily Caller reports.
“… Twiford accosted one of the students and accused the student of forcing their religion on other students,” according to the news site. “The school argued the (other) students (in the cafeteria) were a captive audience being forced to witness the prayer. The father of two of the students appealed to the principal, who stood firm on the rule.”
That’s apparently when parents contacted the Alliance Defending Freedom, which sent a letter to the district Dec. 4 to set the record straight.
“School cafeterias are not religion-free zones, and they certainly do not involve captive audiences,” the ADF letter read. “Students in the cafeteria are not captive audiences because they can leave at any time or turn away from the quiet prayer in the corner …”
The letter prompted district officials to look closer at the issue, and realized that a ban on prayer violates students’ First Amendment rights, KOTA reports.
In a letter responding to the ADF, Fischer wrote that he conferred with a school staffer who witnessed the Oct. 15 student prayer, and the district’s attorney advised that the prayer was totally legal.
“Our attorney advised me that yes, the students did not violate the Equal Access Act and I alerted Principal Twiford of this decision and to let the students know that they can pray before meals in the manner they had in the incident in question,” Fischer wrote.
“The students have since prayed at least once in this manner and will continue to be allowed to do so as long as it falls inside the guidelines of the Equal Access Act.”
Fischer also wrote that he reviewed polices on prayer with other school leaders to ensure students’ rights are not trampled again in the future.
“We have discussed this matter in detail at a board work session with the school board and out administrative staff in December,” he wrote. “I feel our staff and district have a better understanding of student’s rights regarding prayer and how to handle future incidents and consider this incident closed.”
The ADF issued a response to the school district’s decision, according to Fox News Insider.
“The First Amendment protects the right to pray in a non-disruptive manner not just in private but in public, too,” the statement read. “The district has done the right thing in lifting its unconstitutional ban.”