Lawyers with First Liberty Institute, one of the nation’s premiere defenders of religious liberty, have confronted a Texas high school principal’s decision to “quarantine” students who wanted to pray together during non-class time.
“Ya’ll don’t do that again,” the principal, Lee Frost, told the students after they met during a lunch period, sat at an empty table and quietly prayed together, the institute said.
Frost then told the students they could pray only if they went on the cafeteria’s stage behind the curtain, outside of the school building, or in the gym while no one was present.
“In other words, the students were told that they could not pray in view of the other students,” First Liberty explained.
“Students should not have to hide or be exiled to pray for each other,” said Keisha Russell, associate counsel for First Liberty. “School officials need to remember that students don’t lose their First Amendment rights at the school house gate. We’re hoping this issue can be resolved quickly and easily.”
First Liberty sent a letter to Supt. Todd Morrison of Honey Grove Independent School District in Honey Grove, Texas this week.
The legal team explained it was representing Carrie Allen on behalf of her daughter, Hannah Allen, an eighth-grader.
“In early September 2018, Hannah and a group of other students decided to pray for one of their former classmates who had recently been in an accident. During lunch when students are permitted to talk and move around the cafeteria, the students walked to an empty table, held hands, and quietly prayed with one another. Almost immediately after, Principal Lee Frost, walked over to the students and told them in response to the student-initiated, student-led prayer, ‘Ya’ll don’t do that again.'”
But the letter explains to the school that the students religious expression is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and since she did not “disrupt the educational environment of the school,” praying should have been permitted.
The legal team cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s conclusion there “can be no doubt that the First Amendment protects the right to pray.”
“By mandating that Hannah and the other students hide when they pray, Principal Frost sends a message to Hannah and all the other students in the school that prayer is illegitimate, disfavored, and should not occur in public,” First Liberty said. “By quarantining the praying students as if to shield the other students form an infectious disease, Principal Frost acts with religious hostility impermissible under the Constitution and demeans the religious beliefs of Hannah and her friends.”
Morrison told WND the letter was “pretty fictitious” and that kids “have an opportunity to be open in prayer … every day.”
He said Frost reacted because students were involving other students in prayer when they didn’t want to be.
The Department of Education explains: “Students may pray when not engaged in school activities or instruction, subject to the same rules designed to prevent material disruption of the educational program that are applied to other privately initiated expressive activities.”
The letter notes the Texas Association of School Boards allows for tolerance of religious beliefs, and while such policy may be in place at Honey Grove, “it is not being applied to the students.”