WHEATLAND, Wyo. — A school district in Wyoming has overturned its ban on student prayer in cafeterias during the lunch period after a nationally-recognized religious liberties group intervened in the matter.
According to reports, in October, several students at Glendo High School gathered in the back of the cafeteria during their lunch time and stood in a circle as one prayed for God to bless the food. No teachers or school officials participated in the prayer.
However, Principal Stanetta Twiford later approached one of the students and informed them that they couldn’t pray in the cafeteria because the prayer circle forced religion on others. She stated that the students needed to obtain advance permission, and even then, they could only pray in the hall or gymnasium, so that they were not engaging in the activity near other students.
A parent of three of the students then contacted Twiford and district Superintendent Dennis Fischer, but the two agreed that the prayer circle was unconstitutional because any students in the cafeteria that saw the small gathering would feel like a “captive audience.”
The parent then contacted the legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) for assistance, which wrote a letter to the district to assert that it misunderstands the law.
“School cafeterias are not religion-free zones, and they certainly do not involve captive audiences,” the correspondence outlined. “Students in the cafeteria are not captive audiences because they can leave at any time or turn away from the quiet prayer in the corner…. Further, students in the cafeteria are no more a captive audience than students in the hallway or students on a playground…. So long as non-disruptive speech occurs during non-instructional time, schools must allow that speech. The Supreme Court has already confirmed this very point…”
This past week, Superintendent Fischer wrote to ADF to explain that he had investigated and analyzed the situation further, and was told by the district’s attorney that the students’ activity is lawful.
“I alerted Principal Twiford of this decision and to let the students know that they can pray before meals in the manner they had in the incident in question,” he wrote. “The students have since prayed at least once in this manner and will continue to be allowed to do so as long as it falls inside the guidelines of the Equal Access Act.”
ADF says that it is satisfied with the outcome of the situation.
“No student should be prevented from engaging in private prayer alone or quietly with other students on campus,” said ADF Legal Counsel Jonathan Scruggs in a statement on Friday. “The First Amendment protects the right to pray in a non-disruptive manner not just in private but in public, too. The district has done the right thing in lifting its unconstitutional ban.”