Federal Judge Ends Teacher-Led Prayer at Doniphan Schools

September 7, 2006 - Posted at 10:15 p.m. CDT

DONIPHAN, MO - A federal judge in St. Louis put an end to teacher-led prayer in the Doniphan school district and the community isn't happy about it. The ruling comes in response to a federal lawsuit the ACLU filed on behalf of a woman and her two children who attended mandatory, end of the year school assemblies with faculty led prayer sessions.

"I have no problem with someone saying 'bless you' or 'bless your child,'" said parent Beth Michel, "To me that's a compliment. It's not degrading to me."

"I like saying my prayers in school," said six-year-old Savannah Woods.

"The judge ruled wrong and there should be prayer in school," said Stephanie Hayden who has family in school.

As the news of the consent judgment spread through Doniphan, parents and students weighed in on the issue Thursday.

"After them seeing the prayer and the vigils that went on down here to keep the prayer in our school, I thought that might touch their heart a little bit to know that this community is based and founded on the God and the Jesus we love and I was appalled when I learned of the decision," said parent Sherry Woods.

The school is now responsible for paying more than $1,000 in court costs and attorney fees to the Plaintiff's side.  The district will also have to pay each of the plaintiffs $1.00 as a settlement for nominal damages....money meant to make a point.

"We are going to follow our policy in regard to that specifically having staff members, whether they are certified or non-certified lead prayer within the school day in a school setting," said Doniphan Superintendent Kevin Sandlin, "That is not going to happen.  That is our policy and we will follow that policy."

But as for student prayer...don't count it out just yet.

"According to our policy, students can have their own prayer during non-instructional time.  We have some groups, like an FCA Youth for Christ organization outside of school time and they meet on our school facilities and they have prayer activities and other things like that, those things are certainly permissible," said Sandlin.

"I don't think it's going to get any better," said Woods, "Without a lot of prayer and here in Doniphan that's what we are going to continue to do."

"I agree with my grandparents," said fourth grader Will Michel, "They said if they don't believe in praying, they can just move their butts out of town."

The judge ruling in this case said the order was based on a negotiated settlement and was not an admission of liability by any party.