Alexandria HS stops morning prayers after student complains

ALEXANDRIA — The Christian influence at Alexandria High School is visible, but as of this week it’s a little less overt.

There, brightly colored flyers printed with Bible verses hang on the walls, weekly Bible studies are held before class begins and, until recently, prayers were spoken over the school’s intercom system. But that regular practice stopped this week when a student questioned the legality of the practice.

“Every day in the morning we would have student-led prayer over the PA system and I looked this up. It’s illegal,” the student said. “It wasn’t just me; there were a bunch of other students who wanted it stopped.”

He said he demanded it stop in a voicemail sent to Superintendent Judy Stiefel. He also contacted the American Civil Liberties Union by e-mail and by hand-written letter to complain about the issue.

The student requested he not be named in this story because he expected his classmates would not react well to his actions.

In response to the complaint Stiefel sent out an e-mail earlier this week to every school in the system. She said Wednesday the e-mail “reminded them of the law.” The morning prayers at Alexandria High stopped Tuesday.

Alexandria Principal Ronald Chambless declined to comment for this story.

Supreme Court decisions have set precedents prohibiting school-sponsored religious activity, based on the First Amendment, which states Congress may make no law “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

“The U.S. Supreme Court has made it pretty clear that school officials cannot sponsor prayers,” said Bryan Fair, a University of Alabama law professor. “They control the PA system; the student doesn’t control the PA system. That is going to be considered government speech rather than private speech.”

However, the law does not prohibit all prayer. Private prayer and voluntary student prayer is permissible by the law and is allowed at Calhoun County Schools, according to school board attorney Robin Andrews.

“Each student is free to pray individually or with other students during non-instructional time, during lunch, before or after school; even during class, providing it’s private and doesn’t interfere with instruction,” Andrews said.

Allison Neal, legal director of the Alabama chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said these issues are common in the state and that they usually are resolved without taking any legal action. Neal said that her group normally handles such complaints by talking with school superintendents, but Stiefel said Wednesday the ACLU had not contacted her about the issue.

“I have only had one student to comment about this,” Stiefel said. “It has not been a major problem.”

The student said he was motivated to take action because he didn’t think it was fair for the student body, which he described as overwhelmingly “fundamentally Christian” to subject all students to Christian prayers and Bible verses.


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One Response to Alexandria HS stops morning prayers after student complains

  1. PJ Gildernew says:

    It is a shame that one person can dictate to the rest of society how it is to conduct its business. As an educator myself It saddens me as a nation we have come to this point in our history. This student seems to have glanced at and may have even taken this action to see what the result would be and how much power he had over the system. I would venture to guess that with a “Christian” majority or “in group” at this high school there would be less crime, less fights, less teen pregnancies, and more respect than at schools with a “secular” “in group”. I may be wrong but as you pray and study the Bible and apply it to every day life it only makes you a better person. WHO DOES NOT WANT THAT FOR THEIR CHILD? You do not have to subscribe the Christianity, but its principals are universal…do not kill, do not steal, do not bear false witness…etc These are the principals we founded the country on without them you can not have a republic form of government. If this student was so interested in the Constitution and not power over the system he would research the history of education, prayer, and the christian faith played a role in the foundation of this country! I work in a school in Southern California where faith is NOT a crucial part of our day and teen pregnancies are up, drop out rates are up, alternative lifestyles are on the rise, and kids attempting suicide and mutilating themselves are common place.
    Whatever happened to American’s having “thick skin”? Now ever little incident or comment is a major crisis! No body forced this student to participate in Bible study of prayer like Nazi Germany. He could have ignored what was going on around him but as Christian I know the Holy Spirit must have been convicting him and he didn’t want anything to do with it. I feel sorry for this student, the school, and the community that it has been robbed of many blessings but I will continue to pray that the Holy Spirit will work on this young man’s heart and soon he just as Paul became the strongest proponent of Jesus Christ.
    I would finally urge the student body to be strong in the face of this persecution and to begin to meet prior to school starting in the front of the school to show that you are not defeated and you are not going to give up the spiritual battle for your school and mates’ souls. WE are praying with you!!! Keep up the good fight!!! Is 40:31

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