Is the Alabama Governor's Office a
Contact Point for Christian Coalition?
by Conrad Goeringer
November 6, 1997
A special promotional issue of the Christian Coalition magazine, Christian American, listed a telephone number traced to the legal department of the office of Alabama Governor Fob James. The number was publicized in the November-December edition of Christian American, which included special promotional center inserts customized for the recipient's home state.
The number provided was identified as a contact for Phillip and Jennifer Jauregui, who are in charge of the Coalition's chapter in Montgomery, Alabama. Phillip Jauregui, until recently, worked as Governor James's legal advisor, but after an office reorganization was transferred to the Alabama Department of Public Safety.
According to news reports, including an article in the Huntsville (Alabama) Times, the use of state property for political purposes is a violation of Alabama law. When queried about the phone link between the Coalition and the governor's office by the Decatur (Alabama) Daily newspaper, a spokesperson for James released a statement that the matter was under investigation. Jon Scott told reporters, "We have begun looking into the matter."
That edition of Christian America included distribution of nearly 40,000 sample copies throughout the nation. The magazine featured a special insert which included a message from the respective State Chairman of Christian Coalition, along with a special form soliciting membership and selling promotional items such as caps and T-shirts. Christian American boasted that according to Jauregui, the Montgomery CC chapter planned to distribute more than 50,000 voter guides during the 1998 election.
Associated Press reports that according to the Coalition's Alabama state chairman, Bob Russell, inclusion of the governor's office phone number was an "accident."
"Somebody that works for us in our office, I guess, just pulled out a business number versus their residence," he said.
A memo distributed throughout James's office in July explained the policy on using state equipment such as office supplies, cell phones, computers and other items for personal or political use. Staff members denied any knowledge of the use of equipment for Christian Coalition business.
Coalition Supporting James, Moore
But the phone number link is only the latest in a series of ties between Governor James and the Christian Coalition. Last April in Montgomery, for example, the Coalition helped to organize a "Save Our Commandments" Rally in front of the state capitol supporting James and embattled Etowah County Judge Roy Moore, who has garnered national attention for posting a Ten Commandments plaque in his courtroom, and opening judicial proceedings with a prayer. In addition, then-CC Director Ralph Reed (who has since retired from that post to start a political consulting firm for Christian fundamentalists pursuing public office), spoke at the rally and encouraged James, Moore and others active in the prayer-in-government movement.
Senator Urges DeMent
by Rose Livingston, Stan Bailey, and Kent Faulk
The Birmingham News
November 7, 1997
A state senator Thursday called for U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent to resign and to rescind his far-reaching injunction against school-sponsored religious activities in Alabama's public schools.
Sen. Roy Smith (R-Gadsden), in a Nov. 5 letter, asked DeMent to resign "to preserve the integrity of your court."
Meanwhile, the DeKalb County Board of Education voted Thursday night to join the attorney general and Governor Fob James in appealing judge DeMent's ruling, provided the state pays for the appeal.
"In the meantime we must demonstrate to our students respect for our government by obeying Judge DeMent's ruling until such time as it may be reversed or affirmed," said school Superintendent Richard Land.
The board also told Land to begin seeking names of people who could serve as a court-appointed monitor for the system. The board has until Nov. 27 to nominate three people for the position.
Student protests of DeMent's ruling continued Thursday.
For the third day in a row, students at Crossville School in DeKalb County congregated outside during a 10 a.m. break and prayed. On Thursday, about 100 members of the community joined them.
"We're tying to let people know we're concerned for our children and grandchildren," said Boyce Chandler of Kilpatrick, whose grandson is a Crossville student. "We're not trying to force prayer on anybody."
Chandler and others asked Dean Young, head of the Christian Family Association, to help organize a protest against restrictions that have been placed on local schools. A prayer rally is planned at the Rainsville Civic Center Saturday at 6 p.m.
Land said misinformation has swirled since DeMent's ruling came down a week ago. The school system's attorney prepared a list attempting to clarify what will be allowed under the order and it was distributed to principals and teachers last week.
"Parents call and are concerned about what their kids can and can't do and we try to explain to them exactly what's permissible," he said. "Most of the time ... after they understand, they've kind of lost their anger about it."
At Alabama Avenue Middle School in Albertville, where 63 students were suspended Wednesday, another six students walked off campus Thursday to protest restrictions on prayer, said Albertville school Superintendent James Pratt. Those students face possible one-day suspensions, he said.
"Hopefully, that is the last of that," Pratt said.
Students suspended for walking out of class Wednesday were to return to class today.
On another front in the prayer battle Thursday, the DeKalb County school official who filed suit over the prayer issue asked DeMent to stop another judge who has tried to block implementation of DeMent's order in Etowah County schools.
Etowah County Circuit Judge Roy S. Moore, who also has refused to remove a wooden plaque of the Ten Commandments from his courtroom, issued a temporary restraining order Tuesday against enforcement of DeMent's order in Etowah schools.
Michael Chandler, assistant principal at Valley Head High School, is asking DeMent to prohibit Moore from interfering in the issue.
"This court cannot allow Etowah County to set up a law unto itself, to be a constitutional republic unto itself," said Pamela L. Sumners, an attorney for Chandler.
"The state Board of Education itself is now subject to two separate injunctions, requiring two different standards of conduct," Ms. Sumners told DeMent.
Alabama School Fights
by Jay Reeves
The Associated Press
November 7, 1997
Valley Head, Alabama -- Students wearing their Christian bracelets don't have much to say to assistant principal Michael Chandler anymore. Once-friendly adults turn away when he passes or mutter his name in disgust.
And he has quit driving his Corvette to school.
"I'm afraid somebody will put keys down the side of it," said Chandler.
The 47-year-old educator has become a target of scorn for filing the lawsuit that resulted in last week's federal court order restricting prayer in Alabama's public schools, where many youngsters wear cloth bracelets with the letters "WWJD" -- for "What Would Jesus Do?"
Chandler, who has worked for the DeKalb County school system for 25 years, said he has received support privately from many county educators and some parents. And the town's Baptist preacher, Charles Jenkins, has said the ruling may help by spelling out what is and isn't allowed.
But Chandler has virtually no public backing, and newspapers all over the state have been filled with letters from readers who quote the Bible in criticizing him.
"I have been demonized," he said.
Rhonda Weathers said the ruling "stinks," and she doesn't even like Chandler being around her first-grade daughter Jessica at Valley Head School.
"He doesn't believe there's a God," she said, echoing the feelings of many of the 629 people of this mountain town in Alabama's northeastern corner.
Chandler -- who lives with his Methodist wife and 14-year-old son in Fyffe, about 30 miles away -- denies he is an atheist. He was raised Baptist and occasionally goes to church.
It was his belief in the separation of church and state that led him to file the suit in 1996 after years of complaining about coercive Christian practices in DeKalb County's public schools.
Chandler sought an end to the pre-game prayers at athletic events and wanted Gideon International barred from distributing Bibles at school.
The American Civil Liberties Union backed him, as did Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which presented him with its religious freedom award this week in Washington.
U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent sided with Chandler, too, and threatened to hold school officials in contempt if they allow the distribution of Bibles or permit any organized religious practices such as morning prayers over the intercom or pre-game benedictions.
Governor Fob James and Attorney General Bill Pryor, both conservative Republicans gearing up for the 1998 election, said they will appeal, with James declaring that DeMent's order "cuts at the heart of all that is good in America and brings shame on our nation."
The governor even offered to defy DeMent's order by leading prayers at any public school that invited him.
DeKalb County school officials plan an appeal also, a decision made as hundreds of students walked out of classes this week in northeastern Alabama schools to protest the judge's decision. More than 60 were suspended at two schools.
In Valley Head, there was quiet complaining when members of the girls' basketball team were told they could no longer hold their traditional pre-game prayers.
"I don't like the thing about not being able to pray with my coach. I'm a senior, and it just breaks my heart," said Teri Campbell, 17.
The Supreme Court ruled against state-sanctioned prayer in public schools three decades ago, but Christianity is still openly promoted in some Alabama schools.
"People around here don't understand that this has been settled long ago in many courts," Chandler said.
Cindy Grider said her two elementary school-age children like Chandler, whom she described as an able administrator. She just can't understand why anyone would oppose Christianity in school.
"The same way he doesn't want us to force our beliefs on him, it seems like he's forcing his on us," Ms. Grider said.
Governor Urges End
to School Walkouts
Over Prayer Ruling
The Associated Press
November 8, 1997
Montgomery, Alabama -- Governor Fob James, who has vehemently defended the role of Christianity in schools and government, urged students Friday to end walkouts protesting a judge's decision against school prayer.
Moving away from a previous comment that he might defy the school prayer decision, James also said Friday that prayer should not be used for protest.
James, in a statement released by his press office, said any disruption of class or other school activities because of the prayer issue was improper.
"Students should attend class in the future with the understanding that I will continue to pursue the case by every legal and political means possible, including some measures I will announce in the days ahead," James said.
More than 60 students in northeast Alabama were suspended this week after leaving class to publicly pray in defiance of last week's federal court order restricting the practice of religion in public schools.
James, an evangelical Christian, himself has talked of defying court orders limiting the practice of Christianity in the public sector.
The governor has threatened to call out the National Guard in defense of a Ten Commandments plaque in an Etowah County courtroom if the Alabama Supreme Court upholds a lower court order requiring removal of the symbol.
At a news conference Tuesday, where James criticized U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent's order limiting school-sanctioned religious practices, he was asked, "Will you go into schools and pray ... at an assembly where you are invited?"
James replied, "I'd have no qualms about that at all."
In his statement Friday, however, James said he "would not use prayer as a form of protest."
"I believe prayer should be directed to God and not to men, but prayer to God out of sincerity of heart should be respected at any time," James said.
James spokesman David Azbell denied that James ever said he would defy the court order by praying at a school. Rather, James has said he had "no qualms" about prayers said during assemblies when he was in school, Azbell said.
List of Exceptions
to Prayer Ban
by John Anderson
The Huntsville Times
November 9, 1997
U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent, in his October ruling, prohibited state and local officials from aiding, abetting, commanding, counseling, inducing, ordering, procuring or permitting school organized or officially sanctioned religious" activity.
That ban includes vocal prayer, Bible readings, distribution of religious material and discussions of a devotional nature regardless of whether the activity is initiated, led by, or engaged in by students."
But, in his order, DeMent also made a detailed list of exceptions to
that prohibition. Among them:
Schools Quick to
Review Prayer Policies
by Shelly Haskins and John Mark King
The Huntsville Times
November 9, 1997
A federal judge's ruling on school prayer sent school systems across Northeast Alabama scrambling last week to review their own prayer policies and resulted in more than 1,200 area students walking out of class in protest.
Wednesday, about 150 Arab High School students left classrooms and gathered outside school in protest. With help, Superintendent Edwin Cooley convinced all but about 25 of them to go back inside. He took those remaining into the school cafeteria and discussed the details of the law with them, he said.
"We talked about students' rights, their rights to express themselves and their opinions," he said. "It seems they had gotten some misinformation about what they could and could not do."
Cooley also said that about 300 Arab Junior High School students walked out Thursday, but were coaxed back inside by school administrators after seven or eight minutes.
"I want to stress that none of these students were antagonistic, rude or disrespectful at all," Cooley said.
Cooley said that despite the protests, his schools had already been in compliance with the law.
In Madison County, student-led prayers at graduation had been prohibited after Judge Ira DeMent's initial ruling last spring nullifying Alabama's law allowing student-led prayers. But the newest ruling late last month -- laden with specific dos and don'ts -- raised a few other issues, said Ken Hogan, director of secondary education for Madison County schools.
Pre-football game prayers over stadium public address systems will have to stop, and Gideons will no longer be able to pass out Bibles on school property, Hogan said.
And schools that hold religious baccalaureate services before graduation will have to pass on the sponsorship to the PTA, a local church or some other outside organization, he said.
With those exceptions, most any other type of religious activity done on noninstructional time and not sponsored by the school can continue, he said. The national See You at the Pole prayer service won't be affected, and neither will religious club meetings or private prayer, he said.
If a kid is sitting around at lunch and wants to have prayer, I don't think we would go over and stop them," Hogan said. Huntsville schools already had stopped student-led prayers at graduation, at football games and over the school public address system, as well as Bible distribution by the Gideons, said Superintendent Ron Saunders.
Though some school choral groups do sing religious songs in their programs, Saunders said, they also include nondenominational songs and songs from non-Christian religions.
Saunders said school system officials continually consult with local religious leaders from various denominations to make sure what the school system allows is acceptable.
I think the fact that we sit down and talk has helped this from getting blown out of proportion," he said. We're using some good faith here, no pun intended."
Limestone County Superintendent Les Bivens issued guidelines to his principals instructing them to cease prayers over the public address system in school and at ballgames.
It can't be any type of act that the teachers or the faculty initiate or contribute to it," he said, and if we're allowing our PA to be used, we are contributing to it."
Though Bivens told principals to cease school-supported prayers and religious activities, one Limestone County school board member issued his own directive at the end of last week's school board meeting.
Mike Poff, a school board member who is studying to be a minister, said in his closing comments that school officials should follow their conscience. If they feel that not having a prayer at the football game violates their right to free speech, he told them to go ahead and pray."
I'm not encouraging anyone to break the law, but I'm sure encouraging everyone to stand up for the laws that were passed for this country," Poff said. Our kids need prayers."
Here's how other Northeast Alabama school systems reacted to the prayer
Supreme Court on
compiled by John Anderson
The Huntsville Times
November 9, 1997
The U.S. Supreme Court has long held that government-sponsored
prayers in public schools are unconstitutional. Below are major court decisions
dealing with the issue.
Source: Constitutional Law, Horn Book Series, 5th Edition.
Has Stick-To-The-Law Record
by John Peck
The Huntsville Times
November 9, 1997
Lifelong Republican. Decorated military man. Former counsel to preacher-turned-governor Guy Hunt.
These aren't necessarily the credentials some would expect of the judge who struck down a 1993 state school prayer law and who has caused an uproar with his recent detailed order of what school officials and students can or can't do when it comes to religious activities.
Friends and acquaintances of U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent say he is intelligent, thorough and follows the U.S. Constitution to the letter -- no matter what the issue.
DeMent, who declined interview requests last week, was appointed to the bench by President Bush in 1992.
His resume describes a man who has risen through the ranks from private attorney to assistant city attorney to U.S. attorney to federal judge.
Sprinkled in between are numerous honors and awards, including the Rockefeller Public Service Award in management and social conflict. The award was for DeMent's work in reforming overcrowded and ineffective institutions for juvenile offenders, prisoners and mental health patients.
He has a very good understanding of due process," said Montgomery lawyer Ron Wise, DeMent's former law partner. He loves his country, loves the Constitution, and regardless of what the case is, he's going to follow the law no matter whether it's an unpopular decision or not."
Montgomery lawyer Maury Smith, who squared off against then-defense lawyer DeMent when Smith was a prosecutor in Montgomery County, said DeMent, 65, is a tough but fair judge and is widely respected in the legal community.
I know it's easy for lawyers to compliment a sitting judge," Smith said, "but even before he got the appointment, the bar supported him."
DeMent set off a huge controversy late last month in issuing an injunction that prohibits school-sponsored religious activities in Alabama public schools.
The decision came in a lawsuit filed by DeKalb County educator Michael Chandler that challenged a 1993 Alabama law allowing student-led prayer in schools and other school-related functions.
DeMent's order imposed highly detailed restrictions on school-sanctioned religious activities such as prayer, Bible reading and the distribution of religious materials in DeKalb County schools. Other public school systems were not named in the 17-page injunction, but lawyers in the case contend it set forth activities that are allowed and prohibited by the U.S. Constitution under current federal appeals court rulings, which apply nationwide.
Wise said critics should review the ruling in its entirety before passing judgment.
One thing we have not seen in the news is that he goes to great lengths citing cases in other districts about what is permissible. What you hear now are politicians getting voters riled up by making blanket statements that you can't have any religion in schools."
One of the DeMent's harshest critics, Governor Fob James, is a fellow Republican who employed him as special counsel in the latter half of James' first term as governor.
In a strongly worded statement issued late Friday, James called DeMent's ruling a moral and legal catastrophe" and vowed to fight it by every legal and political means" possible.
Only judges willing to violate their oath of office to support the U.S. Constitution would prohibit a football coach and his team from praying for protection at games or when a player is severely injured," James thundered.
The governor said that judges who impose such restrictions are not speaking from the Constitution but from their own political agendas."
One of the few public compliments on DeMent's ruling came from an organization that has been with odds with him on other issues.
It's right dead center," said Martin McCaffery, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union. Judge DeMent followed the precedents that had been set by the courts for 35 years. Contrary to what (DeMent's detractors) are saying, this does not restrict anybody's religious liberties but protects it. The Supreme Court hasn't kicked God out, and neither has Judge DeMent kicked God out."
Wise said such reactions illustrate DeMent's no-nonsense, nonpartisan approach.
That ought to tell people that here's a guy who's straight up who is going to do his job whether it's as a criminal defense lawyer or as a judge. He knows what a loyalty oath is whether it's to practice law or serve his country as a two-star general."
A native of Birmingham, DeMent graduated from high school there and spent the next two years at Marion Military Institute, where he earned an associate of science degree.
He got his law degree from the University of Alabama in 1953 and his doctor of jurisprudence degree from UA in 1958.
DeMent served in the Army from 1953-1974, was honorably discharged as a lieutenant colonel, then was directly commissioned into the Air Force Reserves, where he achieved the rank of major general.
DeMent was assistant U.S. attorney in Montgomery from 1959 to 1961, went into private practice for several years, then served as assistant city attorney in Montgomery from 1965 to 1969. President Nixon tapped him U.S. attorney in 1969, a post he held until 1977.
As U.S. attorney, he was involved in landmark cases on state prison conditions, youth corrections facilities, racial integration of Alabama state troopers and conditions in state mental facilities.
A lifelong Republican, DeMent maintained contacts that helped land him the federal judgeship when then-judge Truman Hobbs took semi-retirement.
Montgomery Mayor Emory Folmar, Hunt, U.S. Reps. Sonny Callahan (R-Mobile) and Bill Dickinson (R-Montgomery), and Bush's Alabama campaign manager, John Grenier, served on a patronage committee that pushed DeMent's name for consideration.
During his confirmation hearings in March 1992, DeMent said he'd resigned from the all-white Montgomery Country Club to clear any roadblock to his nomination.
I did resign because of the fact I know this committee looked with dim favor upon those who belong to organizations that discriminate," he said then.
Dickinson and Sen. Richard Shelby of Tuscaloosa introduced DeMent at the committee hearing that was presided over by now retired Sen. Howell Heflin (D-Tuscumbia).
Heflin told the panel DeMent used care and sensitivity" in handling desegregation litigation that dominated the tumultuous years" during which he was federal prosecutor in Montgomery.
Dickinson told the committee DeMent compiled a record of envy" during his tenure as U.S. attorney in Montgomery from 1969 to 1977. He was approved by the Senate in March 1992 and has been on the bench since. High-profile decisions
DeMent has made several high-profile decisions as a federal judge.
Survey of Alabamians
Finds Overwhelming Opposition
To Federal Judge's Ruling
by Buster Kantrow
November 9, 1997
When it comes to prayer, the Constitution may not be on Governor Fob James' side, but Alabama is.
Despite a federal judge's ruling that the Constitution doesn't allow it, an overwhelming majority of Alabamians polled last week believe prayer and religion should be promoted at school in the classroom, on the football field and during graduation exercises. The findings come from the latest statewide Mobile Register-University of South Alabama poll.
A majority of the 403-person sample say they would support James should he follow through on vows to disobey U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent's ruling last week. The ruling strictly limits organized prayer in Alabama schools.
"The judge has gone against us and what we hold dear," said Janet Lynch, the chairwoman of the Christian Coalition of Mobile. The group is exploring a challenge to DeMent's decision, she said.
"I believe we've got enough people in Alabama who feel prayer is the right thing to do that we should be allowed to do it," Mrs. Lynch said. "If it came to a vote, he would lose."
The poll results are not surprising or convincing said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Religion and government is an issue in which the majority simply doesn't win, Lynn said.
"The Constitution exists for the purpose of protecting the rights of the minority against the overwhelming power of the government," Lynn said. "That includes institutions like the schools that are run by the government."
In his ruling, DeMent barred the state's public schools from allowing any "school-organized or officially sanctioned religious activity," including vocal prayer, Bible devotionals, distribution of religious materials and discussions of a devotional nature.
The ruling permits use of religious texts in academic work, and the display of religious materials if they meet certain "time, place and manner restrictions."
The order forbids prayers at graduation, but allows students to give a brief thanks to God then.
Violators will be subject to contempt proceedings, DeMent said.
The ruling stems from a suit filed by Americans United and the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a DeKalb County educator objecting to religious activity in that county's schools. DeMent called for monitors to ensure that DeKalb County schools comply with his order.
The ruling has prompted walkouts by students around the state and protests by James and Attorney General Bill Pryor, who argue that DeMent overstepped his authority and misinterpreted the First Amendment. Pryor has promised to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. James has said he may say a prayer if invited to speak at a public school.
Judge Roy Moore of Etowah County Circuit Court has also resisted DeMent's action. He issued a restraining order to prevent enforcement of the ruling in his county. Moore is embroiled in his own dispute over his display of a hand-carved replica of the Ten Commandments on the wall behind the bench in his courtroom.
Alabamians clearly side with James, Pryor and Moore: Fifty-eight percent of the poll sample said they disagreed with DeMent's ruling, and the same percentage said they would stand behind James should he choose to defy the judge's order.
Only 40 percent of the sample indicated that state governors should be bound by rulings of federal judges. Forty-two percent said they should not, and 18 percent said they had no opinion.
Lynn said James is setting a dangerous example by threatening to ignore DeMent's orders.
"I don't think the people of Alabama are in favor of anarchy," he said. "It sounds to me like the governor is saying, if you don't like laws, just ignore them. That's not anything that a responsible public official should be saying, whether it's about prayer, race, guns or any other subject under the sun."
If it were left to a vote of Alabamians, prayer would be promoted far
and wide in public schools, the poll suggests. More than three-quarters
of respondents said they would support:
A school-sponsored religious service in conjunction with graduation.
The questions did not mention a particular religion, but most respondents were probably thinking about Christianity when they answered, said Frances Beech, the associate director of the USA Polling Group.
"It's probably safe to assume that in the state of Alabama, if you ask people about prayer, they're going to think about Christian prayer," Ms. Beech said. "They're not really concerned with any other religion."
Those responding were somewhat selective when asked what sort of prayer they would find acceptable in the classroom. Sixty-three percent favored a nondenominational prayer chosen by the school board, while 55 percent approved of Christian Bible verses chosen by the teacher. About half supported Christian prayers chosen by the teacher or by the school board.
Respondents were allowed to choose more than one option.
Any school-sanctioned prayer nondenominational or not threatens to exclude students, since the community includes students with different beliefs about religion and God, said Rabbi Steven Silberman of Congregation Ahavas Chesed in Mobile.
"You say 'God' well, you have an idea about God, and I have another idea of God," he said. "The public-school system should not exclude any of its constituencies."
The rabbi said he opposes even a "moment of silence" during the school day, which 95 percent of respondents to the poll favored.
The poll of 403 Alabama adults was conducted November 3-6, and has a margin of error of 5 percent.
School Prayer Issue
as it Does Adults
by Shelly Haskins
The Huntsville Times
November 9, 1997
When Ladonna Daniel first heard that a federal judge had issued a ruling banning student-led prayer in school, she panicked.
Ladonna and other members of Lee High School's Fellowship of Christian Students thought that was it: The prayer police -- the same ones who ended morning prayers in class and prayers at graduation -- had found a way to stop their Wednesday morning, before-school devotionals.
"We thought it was just, anything religious in school has to stop immediately, whether it be our FCS club or school prayer that we already weren't allowed to have," Ladonna said Friday during a discussion in her government class about the prayer ruling.
Then she read federal Judge Ira DeMent's ruling, and breathed a little easier.
The ruling does prohibit graduation prayers, even student-led graduation prayers, but Huntsville City Schools haven't allowed those for two years anyway.
And it prohibits vocal prayers, even student-led prayers, over the school public address system. It prohibits non-students from distributing Bibles or religious tracts on school property.
But it doesn't, to Ladonna's relief, prohibit the Fellowship of Christian Students from meeting, even praying, on school property. It doesn't prohibit the See You at the Pole national prayer service, as long as it's before school and not organized by school officials.
As long as the students hold their meetings before or after school and don't stand in the hallways witnessing to fellow students and forcing their views on them, the FCS isn't in danger.
Still, something about all these federal court rulings on prayer just doesn't seem right, said Lee senior Andrew Sneed.
"I think it's awfully silly when we address an issue like prayer in school," Andrew said. "I mean, when I was in middle school, I saw drug transactions taking place in the hallway, and we're talking about banning prayer?"
"It's just crazy people and it's craziness," Catherine Carter, Lee High's FCS president, said in response to Andrew's question.
"After all," Catherine said, "the Christian majority wants to pray, and nobody is forcing people of other religions to take part if they don't want to."
"And if you can say the Pledge of Allegiance at school, a pledge that contains the phrase 'One nation, under God,' why can't you pray to God?" asked Wendy Plenty.
"And who says you have to pray a Christian prayer?" Andrew asked.
"I mean, just because you're praying, doesn't mean you're praying to Jesus," he said. "It's your choice who you pray to."
Not everyone in Sue Shaver's government class agreed that DeMent's ruling, or the prayer issue, is so ridiculous.
Jeremy Murdock asked his classmates to put themselves in the shoes of someone of a non-Christian religion. "Think of what it must feel like," he told them, "to be the only one in a group of your peers who must decide whether to leave the room, or the football stadium, when a someone prays a Christian prayer that you don't believe in."
"That's an awful lot of pressure on that one person," Jeremy said. "The idea of the law is to not have that pressure. We all have to go to school."
Ladonna agreed that DeMent's ruling is a technicality. "Just because you can't pray at graduation or over the loudspeaker at football games doesn't mean people won't pray," she said.
Sarah Brown said the ruling probably won't stop the prayer the team says in the locker room before the game, or the one the band says together before marching onto the field. "The students who want to pray, whether they do it aloud or silently, will pray," she said.
"Are the prayer police going to come and stop you if you bow your head?" Sarah said.
"Prayer, like the one the Lee team does before the game, probably will become a 'don't ask, don't tell,' type of thing," said senior football player Mark Brown.
"I think it probably will continue until somebody says it's a problem," he said.
"Still," the continued, "court rulings on prayer in school are a scary trend," said Katherine Sanderson.
"I'm glad I'm graduating," she said. "We're just lucky that we have what we have, because they're not going to have it in two years."
Prayer-In-Government Rally In Alabama
Protests for Prayer Expected to Continue
by Conrad Goeringer
November 9, 1997
With tomorrow the start of another week of classes in Alabama public schools, protests are expected to continue over federal Judge Ira DeMent's decision striking down most organized prayer and religious activity in classrooms. Last week, hundreds of students left campuses for prayer rallies and demonstrations. State officials including Governor Fob James and Attorney General Bill Pryor gave what many interpret as a "green light" for such activities by praising the students for exercising their "right of free speech." Supporters of Judge DeMent's ruling, though, say that this has nothing to do with free expression but instead involves important state-church separation protections.
Last night, an estimated 600 persons attended a meeting in Rainsville, DeKalb County, Alabama organized by Dean Young and his Christian Family Association. CFA has been active in defending other prayer-in-government issues, and supports Etowah County Judge Roy Moore in his practice of displaying a Ten Commandments plaque in his courtroom, and opening judicial proceedings with a Baptist invocation.
Young spent last week boosting the Saturday prayer rally and strategy meeting in Rainsville. On Friday, speaking with talk show host Hank Erwin of WDJC-FM in Birmingham, he excoriated Judge DeMent. "This Ira DeMent needs to understand that this isn't Communist China and it's not Nazi Germany," said Young. "He either needs to rescind what he's done, he needs to cancel out his order to have monitors in our schools, or he needs to be impeached by the Congress of the United States. And those are the two options that we as Alabamians and Americans need to continue to hold for him."
Mr. Hank Irwin has also been a supporter of Judge Moore, and defends prayer in public school classrooms. Monitoring the broadcast, Alabama atheist Larry Mundinger noted that Irwin, "continued with an anti-judiciary format for the rest of his program with a guest from the 'Free Congress Foundation' and one from Coral Ridge Ministries. He said that Congressman Aderholt was preparing to start impeachment proceedings against Judge DeMent."
The Free Congress Foundation is one of the national groups supporting the Religious Freedom Amendment which would "gut" the establishment clause of the First Amendment and provide for a wide range of religious exercise and instruction in public institutions, including public school classrooms. The Coral Ridge Ministries outreach is headed by Rev. D. James Kennedy; that group has run advertisements in support of Judge Moore throughout the state. Congressman R. Aderholt introduced a non-binding resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives supporting Judge Moore and the posting of Ten Commandment displays in government buildings.
A Crucial Week Ahead
A possible split appears to be emerging between the more militant groups which are urging students to leave class and defy Judge DeMent's order, and those who for practical reasons may fear a contempt citation and other consequences. This morning, Alabama Freethought Society activist Carol Faulkenberry said that Attorney General Pryor is now reconsidering his vocal support for students, and is even urging them to "stay in school" while a state appeal to Judge DeMent's ruling gets underway.
Meanwhile, support for prayer in government -- whether in the form of Judge Roy Moore's case, or the flap over Judge DeMent's ruling -- may be softer than polls and other indicators suggest. Activist Carol Faulkenberry said that "many people oppose Moore, but they're not saying so in public"; she also pointed to an informal poll in a local Christian newspaper -- out of three comments printed, all opposed the Alabama school law.
As for the students who are walking out of class, at least one school principal suggests that they may not have a clear fix on the issues. Jackie Thrower, superintendent of the Marshall County Schools told the Huntsville (Alabama) Times that many students had protested "without having a real good understanding of what" Judge DeMent's order was about. "I think it will blow over in a few days."
But having the situation "blow over" may not be in the interests of groups like Dean Young's Christian Family Association. Resentment against the DeMent ruling still remains high -- just ask Michael Chandler.
The 47-year-old Chandler has become a target for religious resentment because he is the one who originally filed the lawsuit which resulted in Judge DeMent's ruling; he has worked for DeKalb County schools for 25 years, and has the support of secular activists and even some religious groups. But according to an Associated Press story filed from Valley Head, Alabama, by reporter Jay Reeves, "Students wearing their Christian bracelets don't have much to say to assistant principal Michael Chandler anymore. Once-friendly adults turn away when he passes or mutter his name in disgust."
"I have been demonized," Chandler told reporters. And a local citizen identified as Rhonda Weathers denounced both Mr. Chandler and Judge DeMent's decision, saying that the ruling "stinks" and that the principal "doesn't believe there's a god." (Chandler told Associated Press that he is not an atheist, and even attends church with his Methodist wife. "It was his belief in the separation of church and state that led him to file the suit in 1996 after years of complaining about coercive Christian practices in DeKalb County's public schools," noted Reeves.
Even with the ruling, and the likelihood that Alabama's appeal will probably fail at the federal level, the "prayer wars" will continue. Expect religious groups to point to Judge DeMent's ruling as a form of "judicial activism," which can be addressed only through passage of the controversial Religious Freedom Amendment. Also expect personal efforts against DeMent, including talk of impeachment -- a subject already broached by Rep. Aderholt.