The Rutherford Institute Intervenes to Protect Students' Right to Pray About National Tragedy
MIDDLESEX, NJ--Although the Middlesex School Superintendent initially refused to allow students and parents to rally around the school flag pole in prayer about the recent terrorist attacks on the nation, they consented after intervention from The Rutherford Institute and allowed the See You at the Pole (SYAP) rally to take place this morning at Von E. Mauger Middle School. Since 1990, students at public schools across the country have gathered around their school's flagpole every third Wednesday in September to pray. But Middlesex school officials, citing safety concerns and a policy prohibiting students from handing out literature of any kind, had stated they would not allow students to meet at the flagpole or hand out fliers advertising the event.
Immediately following the tragic events on September 11, 2001, eighth-grader Victoria Stefanelli expressed the desire to organize a SYAP rally around her school's flagpole. When Victoria's mother contacted the school to inquire about its literature distribution policy, she was told that no student is permitted to hand out literature of any kind. The policy was enacted, school officials said, to prevent litter on school grounds. Teachers, however, are permitted to hand out literature, including advertisements to students. Victoria's mother then contacted The Rutherford Institute, and legal staff immediately contacted the Superintendent of Schools, pointing out that the act of distributing literature is a free speech right and that students do not lay aside their constitutional rights of free speech, exercise of religion and peaceable assembly at the school house gates. After several communications with the school district's legal counsel in which legal staff for The Rutherford Institute argued for Victoria's constitutional right to meet for prayer at the school flagpole and hand out her fliers, the Middlesex School Superintendent finally decided to allow students to meet at the flag pole and pass out fliers during lunch time advertising the event.
"In light of last week's terrible tragedy, we are pleased that Middlesex school officials have decided to permit students to exercise their right to assemble at the school's flagpole to pray for their school and their country," stated John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "At this time, particularly, we must guard our personal freedoms--including our right to pray--as vigilantly as we protect our nation."
The Rutherford Institute is an international, nonprofit civil liberties organization committed to defending constitutional and human rights.