Pryor Enlists Roberts
to Help Fight Prayer Order
by Buster Kantrow
November 12, 1997
Attorney General Bill Pryor has turned to a Virginia legal foundation with religious roots to help fight a federal judge's ruling that he contends would prevent voluntary student prayer in Alabama schools.
Lawyers for the American Center for Law and Justice, founded by televangelist Pat Robertson seven years ago, are helping Pryor appeal U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent's ruling issued two weeks ago.
Pryor has deputized Jay Sekulow, the center's chief counsel, to be a state attorney on the case. He said he also will receive help from Stuart J. Roth of Mobile, the center's Alabama legal director.
Pryor and the American Center are not seeking to return teacher -- or coach -- led prayer to school, Roth said Tuesday. Past federal rulings make it clear that judges will not permit that, he said.
Instead, they want to restore the right of students to pray among themselves during school, Roth said. DeMent's ruling demands that schools forbid voluntary student prayer in certain settings, Roth said. He contends that this prohibition violates the students' First Amendment free-speech rights.
The ruling has prompted several students to call the center for help, Roth said. A Mobile County high-school student said he had been forbidden to pass out religious literature after the ruling was issued, Roth said.
"This ruling changed the rights of public-school students on campuses across Alabama," Roth said. "It targets religious speech, religious ideas and those who want to engage in religious discussion for special disabilities."
A spokesman for a rival group, though, called Roth's argument "completely fantasy," and criticized Pryor for accepting the assistance of the 7-year-old Center for Law and Justice.
"It is completely inappropriate for the state of Alabama or any other state to be entering into a partnership with a television preacher's law firm," said Robert Boston, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which participated in the lawsuit that prompted DeMent's ruling. "If this were a liberal organization, I can just imagine the furor that would be unleashed."
Pryor could not be reached for comment Tuesday because the attorney general's office was closed for the Veterans Day holiday.
Roth, though, said Pryor had asked for the group's help because the center regularly handles religious-freedom cases. "I think Bill Pryor respects me and the organization and Jay Sekulow and the work we've done in this field," Roth said. "In this case, we have a common interest."
On Monday, Pryor's office asked DeMent to delay enforcement of much of his ruling until an appeal could be heard. Pryor filed notice of appeal Nov. 5 with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.
The ruling on Pryor's request for a delay, or a stay, should come in the next week, Roth said Tuesday.
DeMent's ruling stems from a DeKalb County educator's lawsuit complaining of years of coercive activity at school events. In his ruling, the federal judge listed a series of religious activities that should be prohibited, including school-sponsored prayers in class, at athletic events and at commencement exercises.
The ACLJ doesn't object to those provisions, Roth said. "There is a legitimate concern that school systems should have about teachers engaging in religious activity on contract time," he said.
He contended, though, that DeMent's order goes further to bar schools from even "permitting" prayer, even if teachers, coaches or other school employees do not participate.
The ruling means that students no longer may pray together privately and quietly in the corner of study hall, or on the football field after a game, he said.
The ruling is also unconstitutionally vague, leaving school officials to interpret what is allowed and what is not, Roth said. When in doubt and facing DeMent's threat of a contempt citation, educators will err on the side of prohibition , he said.
Boston, the Americans United spokesman, said Roth and the ACLJ are intentionally "distorting" DeMent's ruling, which he called "very balanced, and very reasoned."
"He goes out of his way to state that the only type of expression banned is school-sponsored expression," Boston said.
Judge DeMent's Rules Don't Waver
by Stan Bailey
The Birmingham News
November 13, 1997
Montgomery -- On a blisteringly hot day in 1970, then-U.S. Attorney Ira DeMent waded through the nauseating stench of two crowded and filthy state mental hospitals in Tuscaloosa.
Making a surprise inspection of Bryce and Partlow hospitals, DeMent gathered evidence for a federal court suit on behalf of mental patients, who languished without adequate treatment and seemingly without hope.
After a trial that lasted for months, then-U.S. District Judge Frank M. Johnson Jr. ordered sweeping reforms that revolutionized the treatment of mental patients in Alabama. Soon thereafter, an investigation by DeMent and trial in front of Johnson led to a similar overhaul of the prison system. DeMent brought the U.S. Justice Department into reform efforts in both those lawsuits and became a major force behind the reforms.
His actions didn't make him a lot of friends across Alabama, but the controversy didn't deter him from doing his duty as he saw it, say those who know him best.
Now, nearly three decades later, they say that same dedication to duty guided DeMent -- now a federal judge -- in his stern and wildly unpopular injunction two weeks ago against school-sponsored prayers in Alabama public schools.
DeMent declined an interview, citing federal court rules. But one of his former law partners, Ron Wise, said, "He's not concerned about what people say. It doesn't enter into any decision he makes."
DeMent, a Methodist and a Republican appointee, keeps a Bible on his desk for frequent reference. "That Bible's got more yellow stick-ems in it than a legal brief," Wise said.
"I'm sorry he has to get into the eye of the storm, but he (DeMent) loves the law. Good lawyers and good judges love the law, and he's one of those," said C.C. "Bo" Torbert, former chief justice of Alabama.
"I've heard him say there are no seats in the middle of the aisle," said Montgomery attorney Mark Montiel.
Montiel is appealing an unfavorable ruling DeMent handed him recently in a case involving the state Human Resources Department, which DeMent refused to let back out of federally mandated reforms in the child-welfare system.
Although Montiel said he believes DeMent is wrong on the law, he added, "I have the highest respect for him. He calls them like he sees them, friend or foe. He will do what he believes is right. He is a man of the highest integrity."
That day in Tuscaloosa nearly three decades ago, DeMent said he was nauseated by the smell of urine and feces that hung heavy in the humid air of the crowded hospitals, stirred by big floor fans and the wings of thousands of flies.
Outside the hospital, he shook his head as he watched a mentally ill woman sitting in a straitjacket while flies crawled into her eyes, her nose and into her open mouth.
Plight of patients
The plight of patients stirred anger in DeMent.
That day he checked off a long list of violations of the state fire code and other violations at Bryce and Partlow, which he took back to the court in Montgomery as evidence.
The rest is history. The mountain of evidence of inadequate treatment and inhumane conditions in Alabama mental hospitals shaped the reforms that have been carried out in the decades since and the requirements that still hang over the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation as a barrier against returning to those conditions.
Raymond D. Fowler, former head of the Psychology Department at the University of Alabama, who testified as an expert in the mental health case, said DeMent's "personal involvement was very deep and very powerful. The whole case was a real tribute to him."
Not all his cases have put him on the side of change. He also defended the state against Justice Department claims that Alabama operates a segregated system of higher education. The federal courts still are enforcing reform orders in that case.
A native of Birmingham, DeMent, 65, is a graduate of Phillips High School and Marion Military Institute. He got a bachelor of arts and law degrees from the University of Alabama.
A retired major general in the Air Force Reserve, he served in the Army of Occupation in Germany, 1953-55, and was honorably discharged as a lieutenant colonel in the infantry in 1974.
DeMent was appointed U.S. attorney by former President Richard Nixon and served from 1969 to 1977 -- during a time when former Governor George Wallace was running for president largely on criticism of federal judges and their reform orders.
President George Bush nominated DeMent in 1992 to a federal judgeship, and DeMent resigned from an all-white country club at that time.
Those who have known DeMent over the years of his public career say he hasn't shied away from controversy when it resulted from what he saw as his duty.
"The word duty is not an abstraction to him. He is going to do his duty as God gives him to see that duty, even if he disagrees with it personally," said Montgomery investment banker and broker Will Hill Tankersley, a retired major general in the U.S. Army Reserve who knew DeMent as a young Army lieutenant in Germany in 1954.
DeMent had volunteered to represent a soldier being court-martialed -- a soldier Tankersley, then a captain, described as "the worst excuse for a soldier I ever saw."
The soldier was court-martialed, but Tankersley said he saw then that DeMent never flinched in his duty to represent the man, even though it was a quite unpopular case.
As a federal judge, he speaks sternly to lawyers in his court but not loudly and often brings humor to the proceedings.
A few years ago, when DeMent as a private lawyer was presiding over an environmental hearing, a lawyer asked a question that had been posed several times before and DeMent snapped: "Sustained."
"I didn't hear an objection, your honor," the lawyer said.
"I did," DeMent said.
DeMent's Ruling Halts
Gideon Bible Handouts
in DeKalb Classrooms
by Kent Faulk
The Birmingham News
November 14, 1997
Huntsville -- Handing out red, pocket-sized Gideon Bibles to students has been a tradition in DeKalb County schools for years.
U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent's ruling in a DeKalb County schools case spells an end to that practice, at least inside the classrooms.
DeMent outlined what DeKalb County school officials can and can't do in connection with religion in their schools, and one of the things he banned is handing out Gideon Bibles and other religious material in classrooms or anywhere else students are required to be.
The county Board of Education has until Nov. 28 to submit a policy for distribution of the Bibles and other religious material outside of classrooms.
The school board also is to write a letter to the Gideons that says students are not to be "harassed" over the acceptance or refusal of Bibles.
Some Gideons could not be reached for comment and others declined comment. "We don't have any comment other than we're praying for Judge Ira DeMent," said Jerome Baxley, immediate past state president of Gideons International.
A former Gideon who works for the DeKalb County schools, however, defended the Gideons and their practice of giving out the small Bibles that include the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs.
"We are confused by what appears to be an aggressive response to the distribution of Gideon Bibles," said Conner Runyan, director of vocation education in DeKalb County schools. "No Gideon I know would ever force anyone to take a Bible. It would be against the Gideon code of ethics to harass or to even aggressively pursue a student."
Runyan said he distributed Gideon Bibles to seniors for four or five years, until he stopped being active in the organization about three years ago.
Michael Chandler, the Valley Head High School assistant principal who filed suit in 1995 over religious activities in the DeKalb County schools, told a different story. His attorney, Pamela Sumners, said Chandler contends Gideons on at least one occasion threw Bibles at children through bus windows.
Chandler also says a classroom lecture was interrupted for the distribution of Gideon Bibles, Ms. Sumners said. The county school board denied that allegation but admitted Gideons had come to the homeroom period at the beginning of the day to distribute the Bibles, she said.
Ms. Sumners said DeMent basically ruled Gideon Bibles and other religious literature could not be distributed anywhere students are required to be.
"They [Gideons] can stand on the public sidewalks. They just can't harass students while they are doing it," she said.
It is possible Gideon Bibles could still be distributed to students at school, but outside the classroom, if the DeKalb County school board adopts a uniform policy all schools must follow, Ms. Sumners said.
Pryor Will Challenge
Only Select Parts
of DeMent Prayer Ruling
by Stan Bailey
The Birmingham News
November 14, 1997
Montgomery -- Attorney General Bill Pryor told state school officials Thursday he will appeal only portions of a federal judge's school-prayer decree that he believes violate the First Amendment rights of students and others.
He will not challenge portions of U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent's October 29 injunction against prayer and other religious activities by teachers and other school employees in DeKalb County schools, Pryor told the state Board of Education.
"I'm not interested in launching a broadside attack at every aspect of this injunction, nor do I think it would be fair to school officials to sit idly by while some of these ambiguities and overbroad provisions remain in effect," said Pryor.
"To the extent that the judge's injunction prohibits school-organized, school-initiated, school-sponsored organized religious activities and prayer, I'm not challenging those parts of the injunction," he said. "I think it would be futile and a waste of taxpayers' money. We would not succeed in that effort.
"But there are many other aspects of the judge's injunction that are vague, overbroad and, in my judgment, limit the First Amendment rights of public school students and other private citizens in DeKalb County," Pryor said.
He will challenge portions of the decree that restrict student-initiated prayers and other religious speech, he said, and he's asked DeMent to delay enforcement of the injunction in DeKalb County schools pending that appeal to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In two recent cases, the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that there's a difference between private speech of citizens and government speech, Pryor said.
Private speech endorsing religion is protected by the First Amendment, but government speech endorsing religion is prohibited by the First Amendment. I think those distinctions have been blurred in this injunction, he said.
In written orders Thursday totaling 86 pages, DeMent made his October 29 injunction final, citing a long list of activities he said were repeatedly carried out or sanctioned by school officials in DeKalb County in violation of the First Amendment.
DeMent didn't rule on Pryor's request for a stay but denied a request for an injunction against Etowah Circuit Judge Roy Moore, who has prohibited enforcement of DeMent's order in Etowah schools.
Pryor told DeMent that the case asking Moore to block enforcement of the order was dismissed voluntarily.
Pamela Sumners, attorney for Michael Chandler, the teacher and assistant principal at Valley Head High School who filed the suit in DeMent's court, said DeMent's ruling Thursday was a final judgment in Chandler's favor on several school-sponsored activities.
The suit specifically sought to stop the use of loudspeakers at football games and the intercom in classrooms for school-sponsored prayers and devotionals and the distribution of Gideon Bibles in classrooms.
Pryor said he is not appealing DeMent's March ruling that struck down Alabama's 1993 school prayer law as unconstitutional because it tells students what kinds of prayer they can pray.
In Thursday's meeting, board member David Byers of Birmingham told Pryor he was glad he wasn't "tilting at a windmill" by appealing all of DeMent's injunction but instead was appealing only sections that appeared to violate the First Amendment.
The portions of the order knocking down the 1993 state prayer law applies statewide, however, he said.
Judge Ira DeMent
Issues New Warning
in Alabama Prayer Case
by Larry Mundinger, Barb Buttram,
and Conrad Goeringer
November 17, 1997
Judge Ira DeMent, the federal judge who struck down Alabama's school prayer law, has issued another ruling in the case warning politicians and school officials that they cannot circumvent state-church separation by masking prayer and religious exercise in the U.S. flag, or keeping such rituals brief in their duration. He also cautioned educators that they may not use the prospect of a "national emergency" as an excuse for orchestrated prayer in the classrooms, or allow religious activity at any event which is mandatory, including home room periods.
In March, DeMent declared the 1993 state school prayer law to be unconstitutional. This was followed on October 30th by an injunction against the DeKalb County school system which outlined conduct that is permissible and impermissible. That ruling came after a lawsuit initiated by Michael Chandler, an assistant principal of Valley Head High School. The judge's order barred orchestrated prayers at school sporting events, graduation ceremonies and other official activities. He also waned that violations would be grounds for contempt proceedings.
Etowah County Judge Roy Moore -- who has already attracted national attention for his practice of posting a copy of the Ten Commandments in his court room and opening proceedings with a Baptist invocation -- issued a stay on DeMent's ruling. That action, though, was promptly withdrawn. Meanwhile, state officials have pledged that they will appeal DeMent's ruling. There have been walkouts by some students at grade and middle schools throughout Alabama, and critics have charged that both Governor Fob James and state Attorney General Bill Pryor have encouraged such actions.
James declared, "I am totally sympathetic to students, teachers and all Alabamians who lawfully protest Judge Ira DeMent's illegal order to strip them of their constitutional right to acknowledge God in or near public schools." He charged that, "It is not the people who are in error on this issue; it is Judge DeMent."
Thursday's order issued by DeMent said that county schools have ignored previous rulings concerning prayer, and continue to allow praying over school public address systems at football games, distribution of Christian Bibles during official class time, and teacher-organized devotional session during the school period. He specifically expressed opposition to what is taking place in the Fyffe School, where officials are permitting up to 200 students to stand each day and pray when the son of Michael Chandler, who initiated the lawsuit, enters the cafeteria. That "disruptive, aggressive, harassing speech by students, even in such a lunch setting, is not protected," wrote DeMent.
He also singled out religious activities during any school period where students must be present as examples when religious proselytizing cannot take place. His ruling, for instance, ordered the Gideons to stop distribution of Bibles during the home room period. DeMent likewise rejected the school system's argument that religious activities which are "brief" should be permitted. "No breach is trivial," wrote the judge. That includes prayers on the school PA system during Veterans Day or "times of national crisis." His ruling does not "find any justification for prayer over the intercom as a gesture of patriotism and obviously, against identification with the state."
Robertson Aide Now Deputized
There are new developments to report in this latest episode of the "Alabama prayer wars" which link the case of Judge Roy Moore -- who is appealing a "cease and desist" order barring prayer and Decalogue display, to the state Supreme Court -- and the flap over prayer and other religious ritual in the public school classrooms.
Attorney General Bill Pryor has officially "deputized" Jay Sekulow, Director of Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice, as a state attorney to work on the legal appeal to DeMent's ruling. Also on the case will be Stuart J. Roth of Mobile, the ACLJ legal director for Alabama.
Founded in 1991, this legal advocacy group was established by Robertson as the "Christian counterpart" to the American Civil Liberties Union. ACLJ is based in Virginia Beach, Va., home to Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, Regent University and the Christian Coalition. It boasts over 400,000 donors and an annual budget of over $8 million. The 15 full-time staff attorneys oversee a network of more than 500 "affiliated" lawyers throughout the country, and are divided into what Sekulow described to the New York Times as "legal SWAT teams, lawyers who fly cross-country for face-to-face talks" with government officials or school principles.
Sekulow is a former member of "Jews for Jesus," and directed his own legal outreach (Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism) before meeting Robertson in 1990. He had argued important cases which gave religious groups access to school property on free speech grounds, Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens and Lamb's Chapel v. Center Moriches Union School District. In a profile by the Times, Sekulow was described by J. Brent Walker, chief counsel of the Baptist Joint Center on Public Affairs as an attorney who was "very good on his feet." (Walker added, however, "We disagree with them [ACLJ] on just about every establishment issue...")
Sekulow told the Times that the goal of ACLJ was "restoring fundamental religious freedom in America."
The Times noted, "By this, he said, he meant that religious people would find their views 'not merely tolerated or respected' within the public discourse, but welcome, indeed, anticipated."
Sekulow, ACLJ Promoting "Religious Horror Stories"
Sekulow is already telling media that the Alabama school prayer battle is not over establishment of religion, but is instead a free speech issue. The Mobile (Alabama) Register reports that ACLJ has supposedly already been contacted by "several students," one of whom said "he had been forbidden to pass out religious literature after ... [DeMent's] ruling was issued."
But these sorts of "horror stories" which allegedly showcase what Sekulow and his group describe as civil rights violations of religious believers have often been criticized as being misinterpretation of facts, misleading and, in some cases, even fabricated. Mr. Sekulow presented a number of such incidents in the December, 1995 issue of the Journal of the American Bar Association (JABA) in an article titled, "Defenders of the Faith." That story was later analyzed and investigated by three attorneys from a Seattle, Wash. law firm who found discrepancies between the ACLJ claims and what turned up after a case-by-case inquiry. Some claims appeared to be fictitious, such as the story of a student in Florida "who had her Bible confiscated by a teacher who saw her reading it during recess." Others didn't tell the whole story -- such as Sekulow's account of a student who "was told he couldn't read from his Bible in class."
Attorneys Howard Stambor, Bruce Lamka and David Wright Tremaine took the JABA to task for publishing a one-sided account that carried only the unsubstantiated charges by Sekulow and ACLJ. "It appears to us that the 'outrageous cases' described in Defender of the Faith are not 'cases,' are not particularly 'outrageous,' and do not really involve religious freedom." They added, "While we are troubled generally that debate on these important issues should proceed on the basis of misinformation, we are particularly troubled that a publication such as yours, which reaches a half-million of the most influential people in America, should lend its considerable credibility to this sort of apocrypha and hope you will take this opportunity to correct the record."
The "religious horror stories" have also been employed by another Robertson group, Christian Coalition. In Alabama, the Coalition has been active not only in building support for Judge Moore, but mobilizing opposition to DeMent's ruling on school prayer. At a rally last April on the steps of the state capitol building in Montgomery, outgoing CC Director Ralph Reed told an enthused prayer rally that only passage of the Religious Freedom Amendment could address the "problem" of "people of faith" having access in the public schools. His pep-talk was greeted by chants of, "Tear down the wall!," a reference to the wall of separation between church and state advocated by Thomas Jefferson.
The ACLJ "swat team" in Alabama is sure to capitalize on anecdotal "horror stories" about alleged violations of "religious rights." Attorney Stuart Roth of the group's Alabama office has already charged that, "This ruling [of Judge DeMent] changed the rights of public-school students on campuses across Alabama. It targets religious speech, religious ideas and those who want to engage in religious discussion for special disabilities."
But supporters of state-church separation say that Roth and Sekulow are wide of the mark. A spokesperson for Americans United for Separation of Church and State told the Mobile (Alabama) Register that Roth's statements were "complete fantasy."
The attorney general's office is still seeking a delay or stay on DeMent's ruling; but that is unlikely.
Other developments in the Alabama case
Quiet Time Proposed
by David White
The Birmingham News
November 18, 1997
Montgomery -- Teachers in every public school classroom in Alabama would have to open each school day with a "period of quiet reflection" lasting no more than 60 seconds, under a proposed law filed Monday by a state lawmaker.
The bill by Rep. Perry Hooper Jr. (R-Montgomery) is an almost word-for-word copy of a 1994 Georgia law that was held to be constitutional this year by the federal 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.
"This is a way that children can have the opportunity to go ahead and pray if they so choose without any governmental entity or any federal judge denying them that right," said Hooper, who is considering a run for lieutenant governor next year. He is the son of Alabama Chief Justice Perry Hooper Sr.
Hooper noted that the proposal does not require children to pray during the moments of silence. "If they don't want to, then they can not do anything, or look out the window," he said.
Martin McCaffery of Montgomery, president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, said the proposed law was unneeded.
"This is just pointless. A teacher can already tell the class to be quiet and sit and think," he said. "Any student who wants to pray silently already can do that and has always been able to do that. All he (Hooper) is doing is putting a bill through telling people they can do what they already can do."
Hooper filed the bill for debate in the regular session of the Legislature that starts Jan. 13.
The filing came three weeks after U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent of Montgomery issued an order that bans school-sponsored religious activities, such as scripture readings and vocal prayers, that had been carried out in some schools under a 1993 state law that permitted general, non-sectarian prayers.
Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor has vowed to appeal parts of DeMent's ruling. Hooper said he supports prayer in public schools, but noted that the law could be tied up on appeal for years in federal courts.
"I do not seek to pass a law which will cause the state to defend another lawsuit," said Hooper, whose three sons attend Trinity Presbyterian School, a private school in Montgomery. He said they pray and study the Bible there each day.
DeMent's ruling never questioned a student's constitutional right to pray silently in public schools.
But Bob Russell of Birmingham, chairman of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, said Hooper's proposed law could reassure any confused student that it's still OK to pray silently in public schools.
"I think we have a critical problem with those students who are sincere about their prayer life and starting their day with prayer," Russell said. "They find a confused environment today. I think this would provide them that 60 seconds."
Pamela Sumners of Birmingham, a volunteer attorney for the ACLU, said the Georgia law that Hooper based his bill on is constitutional because during the moment of quiet reflection a student can pray or meditate or think about anything.
"It's not the state telling them they must use that time specifically to pray," she said, adding that requiring students to pray would violate the U.S. Constitution's ban on the state establishing a religion.
Following the Georgia law word for word, Hooper's bill says, "At the opening of school every day in each public school classroom, the teacher in charge shall conduct a brief period of quiet reflection for not more than 60 seconds with the participation of every pupil in the classroom."
The bill says the quiet reflection "shall not be conducted as a religious service or exercise, but shall be considered an opportunity for a moment of silent reflection on the anticipated activities of the day."
No punishment is provided if a teacher fails to conduct the period of quiet reflection.
Against Required School Prayer
by Jay Reeves
The Associated Press
November 18, 1997
Huntsville, Alabama -- The president of the Alabama Baptist State Convention endorsed the church newspaper Monday for opposing required prayer in schools. But a conservative group lashed out at the editor as the state's largest denomination opened a two-day meeting.
The Rev. Leon Ballard said The Alabama Baptist paper was correct in reporting the historic support of Baptists to voluntary prayer and their opposition to government-backed religion.
"Traditionally it's been our position that people should pray in the quietness of their hearts," said Ballard, of York. "When we come to public schools, the question is whose prayer to use."
Ballard's comments came as the Christian Family Association held a news conference outside the convention's annual meeting denouncing the denominational newspaper and its editor, Bob Terry.
The Alabama Baptist, the state's largest religious publication with more than 112,000 paid subscribers, last week reported that U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent's school prayer order did not end the religious liberty of public school students.
The statewide newspaper also editorialized against required prayer in public schools.
"It's an absolute shame when you have the largest newspaper in the state that goes out to Alabama Baptists saying it's a good decision," said Dean Young, executive director of the Christian Family Association.
Young accused Terry of misleading people into believing that school prayer advocates support required prayer by students. "This is about voluntary prayer," said Young, of Gadsden.
A supporter of the group presented a resolution asking the convention to denounce last month's school prayer ruling by the federal judge in Montgomery, but it was unclear when a vote would be taken.
The two-day meeting, attended by some 1,400 Baptists statewide, concludes Wednesday.
Describing himself as a Southern Baptist but not an official representative at the convention, Young disputed the idea that Baptists traditionally supported the separation of church and state.
A denominational leader, however, said Baptists are "strong proponents" of keeping government and religion separate.
"I think grassroots Baptists still have a strong adherence to that policy," said Tom Whatley of Muscle Shoals, chairman of the state board of missions.
The newspaper editor said he had received overwhelming support for his editorial stance on the ruling.
"I've had two negative responses and over 100 positive responses," said Terry.
DeMent barred school-sanctioned prayer and other religious practices in public schools. He said his ruling did not prohibit silent prayer, religious clothing or jewelry or Christian clubs that meet at schools outside classroom time.
The judge said monitors would be used in schools to assure compliance with the order, but a supporter of the Christian Family Association said that sounded like something out of Nazi Germany.
"We're looking, to me, at Adolph Hitler's time. It won't be long before they take our Bibles and tell us to burn them," said Boyce Chandler, a Baptist preacher from DeKalb County.
State Baptists Tackle
School Prayer Issue
by Ken Faulk
The Birmingham News
November 19, 1997
Huntsville -- A group of state Southern Baptists is to decide today whether to denounce a federal judge's ban on school-sanctioned religion in public schools.
About 1,400 representatives from Baptist churches around the state are at Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville for the Alabama Baptist State Convention, which ends today.
The convention's resolutions committee is combining three proposed resolutions about U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent's ruling for discussion and a possible vote this morning, said Dale Wallace, a Birmingham lawyer who is chairman of that committee.
DeMent's ruling, which sparked walkouts by students and other protests, set guidelines on religion in schools, including a ban on school sponsored prayer. It does allow, among other things, students to pray silently and wear religious symbols.
Wallace said committee members are wording the resolution so it faithfully reflects the thoughts of those at the convention, and he believes the version they present will have a good chance of being approved. "Clearly, people feel strongly about it," he said.
The Rev. Leon Ballard, president of the state convention, said he didn't want to comment on the resolution until he had seen a copy.
Ballard said he hopes a discussion on the resolution isn't controversial or divisive. "I have a feeling it will be one of those resolutions that we discuss a bit," he said.
A resolution by Wayne Milam of East Gadsden Baptist Church was the only one of the three released Tuesday. It asks the convention to denounce DeMent's order and seeks immediate withdrawal and nullification of the order.
"One of the reasons we pout this resolution together is because we see our children and our school being squeezed and not having the freedom to acknowledge God and pray," Milam said in a press conference outside the convention.
Dean Young, executive director of the Christian Family Association, which helped Mila draft the resolution, said DeMent went too far when ordering monitors to make sure DeKalb County schools didn't violate his order. He said he is afraid monitors eventually would be brought to other schools.
DeMent's order came in a case against officials at DeKalb County schools, who were accused of allowing the separation of church and state to be violated.
Young also criticized Bob Terry, editor of The Alabama Baptist for a column he wrote saying the ruling doesn't seem to change students' guarantees of religious freedom or conflict either with the Baptists' belief in voluntary prayer or the group's long-standing opposition to government-sponsored prayer.
"The editor implied that people are being forced to pray across the state of Alabama," Young said. "Nobody is being forced to pray."
Ballard defended Terry's column. "I think that's the traditional Baptist stance," he said. "People pray in their home, be we don't believe they should be put in a position of being embarrasses or having to pray a particular prayer."
Terry didn't respond to Young's criticism. But he said: "There is a quantum leap between fighting for the rights of students to pray voluntarily and requiring student to pray. And the quantum leap I don't want to make and I don't think Baptists really want to make."
Alabama Baptist Group
School Prayer, Decalogue Display
by Conrad Goeringer
November 20, 1997
A state wide gathering of Baptists meeting in Huntsville, Alabama reaffirmed support yesterday for resolutions backing prayer in public schools, and the display of Ten Commandments plaques and other religious symbols in government buildings. This followed the appearance of a surprise editorial in last week's edition of the Alabama Baptist magazine, where editor Dr. Bob Terry opposed mandatory teacher or student led prayer in classrooms, saying "To require prayer of students is to use the power of government to force people to engage in religious activity. Baptists, among all people, should recognize such a position is a violation of one's God-given religious liberty."
Yesterday's meeting of Baptist delegates, or "messengers," came against the backdrop of one of the nation's major confrontations over the First Amendment and state-church separation. During heated debate, speakers denounced the recent decision of Federal Judge Ira DeMent, striking down Alabama's 1993 school prayer law as an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. Others denounced Terry for his editorial, or repeated their support for embattled Etowah County Judge Roy Moore, who has attracted national attention for his policy of opening court proceedings with a Baptist invocation, and posting a plaque of the Ten Commandments above his bench.
The main resolution denouncing Judge DeMent was a combination of three earlier proposals. The final draft said, "Alabama Baptists are concerned that the order [from DeMent] has inhibited our public institutions from reinforcing the values upon which our country was established." The resolution went on to express "support and appreciation" to the public leaders opposing DeMent's order, which bans teacher or student initiated prayer in the state's schools as part of any official activity, such as daily classes, graduation events or sporting activities.
The judge's order has met with resistance from groups of some students throughout the state; over the last two weeks, a number of school districts have been the scene of walkouts and petitions. Governor Fob James and Attorney General Bill Pryor praised the protests and said that Alabama will be appealing DeMent's controversial ruling. As reported recently, the state has now "deputized" Jay Sekulow, head of Pat Robertson's legal arm, American Center for Law and Justice, to handle the challenge.
Christian Family Association Leading Push For Resolutions
Yesterday's meeting demonstrated the organizational prowess of Dean Young and his Christian Family Association, a state-wide religious group that has been active in building support for Judge Moore and calling for opposition to Judge DeMent's decision. CFA member Wayne Milam of East Gadsden Baptist Church sponsored one of the original resolutions. He told the "messengers" that, "In America, the freedoms we've been able to enjoy have been squeezed and choked. We do not have the freedom to acknowledge God and be able to pray. We must take a stand, and I think a majority will stand for it." Young then blasted Terry's editorial, although he denied wanting to force anyone to pray. "Mr. Bob Terry has done a terrible injustice to Southern Baptists and he should be ashamed."
The Huntsville meeting also reflected the fragmentation of the Baptist denomination into various ideological factions, such as the militant fundamentalists led by Young and somewhat more moderate groups like the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. A survey conducted by the Huntsville (Alabama) Times newspaper of the Fellowship's Monday meeting showed that most members of that group appear to support Judge DeMent's decision limiting orchestrated prayer and religious activity in public schools.
"Most reports from convention groups brought little or no discussion from the messengers," noted the Times. But in addition to the resolution supporting school prayer, another volatile issue was the nomination of a moderate Baptist -- Mart Gray -- to the state executive committee of the church. "Some conservative Alabama Baptists said he [Gray] might use his role as a member of the executive committee 'to recruit' people for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship."
What Yesterday's Meeting Resolution Signifies
Despite the stand taken earlier by Alabama Baptist editor Bob Terry, there seems to be little chance of blunting the hard-shell religious support for "student led" prayer in public schools, and other examples of religious entanglement with the government. Thus, there is little chance at this point that from an organizational perspective, opposition to Judge Moore, Governor James and the movement to defy Judge DeMent's order concerning First Amendment issue can coalesce successfully within this portion of the state's religious community. Secularists must look elsewhere for effective allies and strategy.
"Moment of Silence" Ruse
Is Proposed as Prayer Surrogate
by Conrad Goeringer
November 20, 1997
When historic Supreme Court rulings in the early 1960s such as Murray v. Curlett began putting an end to the coercive practice of prayer and Bible verse recitation in public school classrooms, prayer advocates began scrambling for substitute rituals which would pass legal muster. The 1962 Engel v. Vitale case prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down State-composed prayers which were supposedly sufficiently "non-denominational" in content so as to appeal to all or most gods and religious persuasions, while offending none. New York State had argued that its so-called Regents prayer was sufficiently vague that it did not favor one religion over another; but the justices noted that it favored religion over non-belief, and entangled government with the propagation of religious belief.
The Murray v. Curlett decision focused heavily on Bible verse reading and prayer recitation in the classrooms of Baltimore public schools. The high court struck that practice down as well in 1963; in addition to ending those coercive practices, the Murray case became a "first" in other respects, though. It was the first time in U.S. history that an atheist had openly argued as such on behalf of state-church separation and the rights of non-believers. Whereas petitioners in previous and subsequent litigation went to great lengths to proclaim their religious beliefs and commitment to institutional denominations, the plaintiff's brief in Murray began with the famous phrase, "Your petitioners are atheists..."
Other attempts to insert prayer into public school classrooms met a similar fate. In Wallace v. Jaffrey (1985), the Supreme Court struck down "silent prayer," noting that this ritual also entangled government and religion. May v. Cooperman that same year, before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, also disallowed silent prayer. Other practices, from allowing the distribution of Bibles during class time to pre-game invocations at high school athletic events have also been ruled as unconstitutional entanglements between state and church.
None of this, however, seems to have discouraged prayer-in-government enthusiasts. In addition to "silent prayer" and so-called voluntary prayer, a "moment of silence" or "moment of reflection" has been proposed in an effort to secularize the prayer rituals. Critics have pointed out that this is simply a shabby ruse to sneak prayer back into public school classes; "after all," they ask, "why not a 'moment of calisthenics' or some other activity instead?"
Prayer supporters, while turning to the "moment of silence" stratagem, have done so reluctantly. They would prefer to see an open, orchestrated acknowledgement of some form of religious ritual and deity -- usually Christian -- but accept the reality that any proposal must pass constitutional muster. They then argue that the "moment of silence" is not a religious activity, does not constitute prayer (although it creates an opportunity for it, they admit," and is non-sectarian in its function. Critics respond that at best, the "moment" is simply a transparent ruse.
In Alabama, Rep. Ferry Hooper Jr. (R-Montgomery) has now introduced a bill in the state legislature that would require all public schools to institute a moment of "quiet reflection" at the beginning of each class day. "If [students] don't want to [pray] they can just not do it or look out the window. This bill simply gives them the opportunity to pray."
Hooper admits that his proposal is not meant to detract from the challenge being launched by Governor Fob James against Judge Ira DeMent's ruling striking down the Alabama prayer law enacted in 1993. Hooper adds that his bill is modeled after a Georgia law that has been upheld as far as the Circuit Court level. The American Civil Liberties Union had challenged Georgia's "moment of quiet reflection" statute, but in 1995 U.S. District Judge Frank Hull of Atlanta found the practice to be permissible.
Supporting Hooper's measure is the state chapter of Christian Coalition; in fact, the GOP legislature was joined at his Monday press conference which announced the "moment of silence" bill by Bob Russell, state director of the CC. Russell told reporters with without a specific, government-provided period of silence, students "are looked upon as doing something out of the ordinary if they bow their heads" and pray.
"There are students that sincerely want to start each day with a prayer," he continued. "But in this hectic world we live in today they drive to school or Mom takes them, they rush in and immediately are in their school day."
Russells remarks seem to be directed at critics of school prayer who argue that students already enjoy ample opportunity should they wish to pray on their own time. Guidelines on the role of religious belief and ritual announced last year by the U.S. Department of Education note these periods, including lunch, break time and the hours going to and from school. Russell added, though, that government should provide a suitable period as part of the class day. "If they are provided [with] this minute, they can use it for quiet reflection or pray if they want, but it's not intrusive to those not interested in praying."
The Huntsville (Alabama) Times noted that "Russell said he may rally his group's 20,000 active members in the state to help push Hooper's bill."
The moment of silence proposal could split the ranks of church-state separationists, especially if the ACLU and other groups conclude that the practice is "sufficiently secular." Martin McCaffrey of the Alabama ACLU said that the group would not oppose Hooper's bill as long as it was not intended as what the Times called "a back-door approach to organized school prayer."
McCaffrey added, "The question that arises is, since every teacher in the country and in Alabama is allowed right now to tell their class to be quiet, why is the Legislature getting involved? This law does nothing but tell them to be quiet. It is micromanagement to the extreme."
A Tough Legal Challenge
Prayer-in-government advocates find disingenuous "moment of silence" proposals legally useful, but not totally immune to successful legal challenge. The proposals usually make no reference to prayer or religion in their texts, and in the case of Hooper's bill, there are no sanctions for teachers who disobey the law. Hooper has said, however, that he may amend the present bill with language that would give authority to local school boards to punish teachers who did not "conduct a brief period of quiet reflection for not more than 60 seconds with the participation of every pupil in the classroom."
Alabama had a similar law that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1985, which allowed for a period of silence and meditation. In that case, the court noted that legislative debate records on the measure and other materials indicated that no effort was made to justify the law on secular grounds, that it was clearly religious in its intent.
Hooper hopes to circumvent that; his bill includes a provision that the legislation "is not intended to be and shall not be conducted as a religious service or exercise, but shall be considered an opportunity for a moment of silent reflection on the anticipated activities of the day."
This bill may already have a "religious taint," however, especially in light of Hooper's own statements and the possible support of groups like the Christian Coalition. The historical record may undermine this proposal as well; Hooper had introduced a similar bill last year, but "said he dropped it at [Governor] James' request because Alabama's school prayer litigation was in court," observed the Times.
Alabama atheist Larry Mundinger has found more incriminating material, though, in connection with Hooper's proposal. While both Hooper and James say that the measure presumably has nothing to do with religious belief, Mr. Hooper apparently cannot remain silent and instead is gushing about the spiritual potential of this measure. On the Alabama Live show broadcast statewide yesterday, Hooper confirmed that under his bill, all students will be required to participate. He added, "maybe it will encourage people to pray and they will become Christian."