School's Day Of Prayer Decision Hits The SPOT

Inside the Issues with Alan Sears

Alan Sears, Esquire

ADF President, CEO, & General Counsel

May 19, 2009
For awhile there, it looked like the Christian students at Royal Oak Middle School in Covina, California didn't have a prayer.

When their SPOT (Spiritual Place of Teens) club asked permission to pass out flyers and hang posters around campus inviting other children and teachers to join them in commemorating the National Day of Prayer on May 7, officials of the Charter Oak School District said, "no."

What's more, the administrators said the SPOT students could only celebrate the occasion if they referenced it as the "National Day of Reflection."

Upon reflection, some of the SPOT club members and their parents decided that a ruling like that really didn't gel with the children's Constitutional rights, so they contacted the Alliance Defense Fund, who passed along some thoughtful advice on how to broach their concerns to school officials. 

"Christian students shouldn't be discriminated against for expressing their beliefs," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel David Cortman. "The so-called 'separation of church and state' does not permit school officials to silence students who wish to advertise or observe the National Day of Prayer. We are pleased that school officials chose to recognize and honor students' constitutional rights by allowing them to participate in this event."

After further discussion, administrators reversed their position.  The posters were posted, the flyers changed hands, and some 60 students and 30 adults gathered around the Royal Oak flagpole before the morning bell, not to "reflect" – or muse, or meditate, or daydream – but to pray for their nation and its leaders.

Some concerns lingered, though, over ongoing Charter Oak district policies that restricted the rights of Christian students to advertise events, access meeting spaces available to other groups, and openly share their faith with fellow students.  ADF attorneys sent a letter to district officials asking them to change those policies … and the district soon complied with that request.

I hope you will join me in giving thanks this week for children who want so very much to pray for their country, and for those of us who are defending their right to do so.  Even as you read this, ADF attorneys are defending the National Day of Prayer Task Force and its chairperson, Shirley Dobson, in a federal lawsuit brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation to halt the observance of the annual event.

Please pray that the federal judge's ruling in this case will be as "spot on" as the decision of the Charter Oak administrators.