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Iowa students object to singing Lord's Prayer at graduation

By The Associated Press


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WOODBINE, Iowa — A school district is forcing its high school choir to sing the Lord's Prayer at graduation and is violating the First Amendment, according to a lawsuit filed by the Iowa Civil Liberties Union Foundation.

The ICLU is suing the Woodbine Community School District on behalf of two students and their parents, who say requiring the choir to sing the prayer violates their religious freedom.

The choir sang the Lord's Prayer at graduation ceremonies last year.

It was pulled from the upcoming May 19 commencement when someone complained, but was put back in by the school board, which added a secular selection as well, said Woodbine Superintendent Terry Hazard.

"The intent was to balance it because we had a number of complaints for taking it out," he said. "That evidently wasn't acceptable."

The ICLU filed the lawsuit April 1 on behalf of Donovan and Ruby Skarin, sophomore twins and choir members, and their parents Christine and Donald Skarin, of Dunlap.

"The prayer which they are having us sing for graduation is basically forcing us to sing praise to a God that we don't even believe in," Donovan Skarin said.

Hazard said the song was selected for its musical content, not its religious value.

"The Lord's Prayer represents a deeply personal affirmation of faith for millions of Christians worldwide," said Ben Stone, ICLU director. "The government has no business forcing kids to sing such a prayer."

Hazard said choir members do have required performances, but an absence can be made up with an alternative activity. The Skarins never contacted the music teacher about arranging for an alternative activity, Hazard said, and something probably could have been worked out so they didn't have to sing the song.

The school board will revisit the issue at its meeting April 11, Hazard said.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction but no monetary damages.


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Analysis Refusal to hear Florida graduation-prayer case highlights seemingly mixed message sent by justices in last decade.  12.11.01

Nebraska school district sued over graduation prayer
ACLU says school board member violated church-state separation by leading students in Lordís Prayer.  12.01.01

Judge affirms ban on graduation prayer at Illinois high school
For first time in 80 years, graduating seniors stopped from praying during ceremony.  05.25.01

Supreme Court bans student-led prayer at football games
Despite earlier indications that justices would allow more religious involvement, court adopts separationist stance in public-school prayer case.  06.19.00