Prayers at Naval Academy, Citadel under scrutiny after VMI decision
"In establishing its supper prayer, [the Virginia Military Institute] has done precisely what the First Amendment forbids," a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday (full decision). "Put simply, VMI's supper prayer exacts an unconstitutional toll on the consciences of religious objectors. While the First Amendment does not in any way prohibit VMI's cadets from praying before, during, or after supper, the Establishment Clause prohibits VMI from sponsoring such a religious activity."
Today's Boston Globe notes that the decision is "a precedent-setting ruling against prayer at a state college" because it's the first time a court at that level has ruled "to extend to public colleges and universities a series of Supreme Court rulings against prayers at public elementary and high schools. … In other recent appellate decisions involving public colleges or universities, other courts have allowed prayers at commencement exercises—something that the Supreme Court has banned at the grade school and high school level."
The ruling was immediately felt at similar colleges. The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland called on the U.S. Naval Academy to "re-examine" its sponsorship of prayer at lunchtime, and officials at the Citadel are reconsidering its practice of allowing student volunteers to lead cadets in prayer before each meal (a student chaplain led prayers at VMI).
"The Air Force, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine academies offer a moment of silence before meals; the U.S. Military Academy at West Point does not even offer that," notes The Baltimore Sun.
Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore says he will ask the full 4th U.S. Circuit ...1
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