- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 1, 2002

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) The American Civil Liberties Union said yesterday that it will meet with the Kanawha County school board next week and ask for the abolition of the student-led prayer policy that was declared invalid by a federal judge.

However, Andrew Schneider, executive director of ACLU of West Virginia, said he plans no action against the students who spontaneously recited the Lord's Prayer during St. Albans High School's graduation ceremony on Thursday night.

More than 100 students stood and recited the prayer in defiance of a federal judge's ruling barring an invocation.

"If a few kids choose to pray, that's not the fault of the school board," Mr. Schneider said.

Principal Tom Williams attributed the voluntary action to normal teen-age behavior.

"That's why I love teen-agers you never know what's going to happen," Mr. Williams said. "The kids took this upon themselves. They stood up for what they felt was right, just as Tyler stood up for what he felt was right."

U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. issued a temporary restraining order for St. Albans senior Tyler Deveny about two hours before the ceremony was set to start at the Charleston Civic Center. The ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed the lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of the senior.

Judge Copenhaver ruled that Tyler, an atheist, is likely to "suffer irreparable harm" by being forced to either sit through "an unwelcome religious exercise" or to sit out the graduation.

The ruling struck down a Kanawha County policy allowing student-led prayers at graduation ceremonies, as long as the statements are nondenominational and nonproselytizing. The statements must be voted on by graduating seniors and approved by the principal before the ceremony.

Judge Copenhaver declared the policy invalid, saying the proposed invocation was marked by religious content.

He said the vote to include a prayer in the graduation ceremony at St. Albans was made only by senior-class officers and represented the wishes of the majority, but "the desires of the minority, and the desires of the plaintiff, are not respected by this democratic process."

The school system's attorney planned to advise principals to cancel their invocations.

Tyler, 18, stayed home rather than attend graduation.

"I have no use for that pretentious, self-congratulatory ceremony," he said.

He said earlier that he had been verbally abused by schoolmates who do not support his views.

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