AU Challenges School-Sponsored Prayer In Florida

Attorneys with Americans United have advised a Florida public school to stop allowing a principal and other staffers to pray with students.

AU, acting after receiving complaints from community residents, asserts that Principal Mike Rio and several teachers were filmed on videotape praying with students on May 3, 2007, during a National Day of Prayer observance at Virgil Mills Elementary School in Bradenton. AU sent its letter on April 29 so there would be no reoccurrence of teacher-led prayer during this year’s National Day of Prayer, which was May 1.

“Governmental neutrality in matters of religion is particularly important in the context of public schools because students are legally required to attend – and are thus a captive audience – and because schoolchildren are considerably more impressionable than adults,” AU’s letter asserts. “In accordance with these principles, the courts have held that school officials, teachers, and employees are not permitted to lead, participate in, or promote prayer with students.”

John Bowen, attorney for the school board, insisted nothing illegal is going on.

“I’ve talked to the principal, the assistant principal and the school secretary and a lot of the information is erroneous,” Bowen told the Bradenton Herald. “To say the prayer meetings occur periodically throughout the school year is not true.”

AU asserts that the tape clearly shows Rio participating in prayer and also pointed out that the prayer event was announced over the school’s public-address system.