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Despite ACLU Demand To Cease Public Prayer, Delaware School District Stands Firm In Practice Of Opening School Board Meeting With Invocation

Rutherford Institute Attorneys Commit to Defending School Board Members from Potential ACLU Threat

FRANKFORD, Del. -- Despite pressure from the Wilmington, Del., chapter of the ACLU to cease issuing prayers at public events, officials with the Indian River School District opened a recent school board meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2004, with a brief invocation. Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have agreed to defend the Delaware school district should its practice of opening meetings with a brief prayer be challenged. Thomas Neuberger, a Rutherford affiliate attorney based in Wilmington, Del., is assisting the school in this matter.

"As the Supreme Court has said, we are a religious people and our institutions presuppose a supreme being," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "I commend the officials at Indian River School District for holding to this truth and standing up for their constitutional rights and showing their students that there are some things in this world worth fighting for."

An official with the Indian River School District Board of Education contacted The Rutherford Institute after the Wilmington, Del., branch of the ACLU demanded that the school board stop opening their monthly business meetings with a prayer. Several hundred members of the community gathered at Frankford Elementary School on Aug. 24, for the monthly business meeting of the Indian River School Board of Education, to see whether the school board would cede to pressure from the ACLU. Those gathered broke into applause after Board President Harvey Walls asked board member Dr. Donald G. Hattier to lead the board in a word of prayer. Hattier read a prayer given by George Washington during the Revolutionary War: "Almighty God, We make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy holy protection: that Thou wilt incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government, and entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow citizens of the United States at large. And finally that Thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without a humble imitation of whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation. Grant our supplication, we beseech Thee. Amen." During the business meeting, the board also issued a first reading of a policy concerning school prayer at baccalaureate and commencement ceremonies, which states that student-initiated, student-delivered, voluntary messages may be permitted during graduation ceremonies.

The Rutherford Institute is an international, nonprofit civil liberties organization committed to defending constitutional and human rights.

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