Controversy over a morning prayer meeting at a high school in Georgetown, S.C., was settled this week as district officials offered a compromise.
Students at Georgetown High School will be allowed to form their own prayer club as long as it is open to any student and is sponsored by a faculty member.
"We want to continue to provide this kind of service for all students at Georgetown High because it is the right thing to do as well as the fact that it meets the district's and the school's goals of providing a well-rounded education for our students," Chris Miller, the school's band director who volunteered to supervise the prayer group, said to media on Wednesday.
The Georgetown County School District had recently stopped a local resident from leading the prayer meetings, which were attended by a handful of students before school started, after receiving a complaint from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.
The complaint targeted Violet Infinger, who had been leading brief prayer sessions with Georgetown High students for more than 10 years and distributing religious literature.
"This is not appropriate," said Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. "Some parents may disagree with Infinger’s religious perspective and may not want their children exposed to religious proselytism and coercion in school."
To clarify, the group said the complaint was not against students praying on campus but against Infinger, who is part of First Assembly of God church, handing out tracts.
"Individual students remain free to pray on their own at the beginning of the day, before lunch, when they take tests and so on. As long as the student prayers are personal, non-disruptive and don’t coerce others, they present no problem," the group stated.
School officials were not aware of the regular prayer meetings led by Infinger until an attorney with Americans United brought it to their attention. Once informed, they announced that the informal prayer sessions would not be allowed until they came to a decision on how to deal with the matter.
Soon after, Superintendent Dr. Randy Dozier issued a statement, announcing that students who want to pray can meet on campus as long as they follow established guidelines.
The district has permitted the students to form an official club. The club has permission to meet on school grounds from 7:25 - 7:38 a.m. each morning and all club activities will be student initiated and student led, Dozier said.
Meanwhile, the distribution of any unapproved materials is not permitted. Students may invite ministers or church lay people as long as those volunteers meet certain requirements regarding school volunteers.
"We certainly respect students’ rights to pray and assemble," Dozier stated. "I think there were some legitimate concerns expressed with the distribution of literature by an individual. I believe that clearly we have processes and procedures in place to address these concerns, and to be in compliance with constitutional law and federal mandates."
Despite the controversy and confusion over Infinger and the morning prayer, Principal Mike Cafaro on Wednesday publicly thanked her for what she's done.
Infinger said the students are happy with the school's decision.