Last fall, when a coalition of youth ministries called for a “National Day of Student Prayer,” the event generated lots of participation and little controversy. More than one million students across the country took part in “See You at the Pole” prayer rallies held without problem on public high-school campuses (CT, Oct. 28, 1991, p. 54). Except in one small town.

School officials in Metropolis, Illinois, called in police to disperse six students who refused orders to break up their before-school prayer meeting. Two girls in the group were detained in a squad car for about 15 minutes before being released without charge.

The incident quickly became the subject of national Christian media reports, which portrayed it as an egregious violation of constitutional rights. But some local Christians see the event as a communication breakdown blown out of proportion, and they are critical of several national organizations for making what they say are inaccurate and exaggerated claims about it.

Focus on the Family radio, Sunlight broadcasting, the Christian Broadcasting Network’s “700 Club,” and other Christian media immediately reported the story. Last month’s Christian American, published by Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, led with a lengthy article headlined “Students Arrested at Flagpole Prayer.” In the same issue, Robertson pointed to the incident as an example of how Christians are “losing their right to express their faith” in this country. “These honor students were threatened with Mace and manhandled by police while praying beneath the very flag that represents our cherished freedom,” he wrote.

Lack Of Information

In the view of Massac County School District Superintendent Don Smith, who eventually issued an apology over ...

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