School Reverses Suspensions for 12 Praying Students

A public school district retracted suspensions given to a dozen students who had been praying in a common area at their school cafeteria earlier this year.

The Evergreen School District – which Heritage High School in Vancouver, Wash., is part of – had agreed to remove the offenses from the students' school records so that they will not negatively affect their records in the future.

The group of students were able to pray again in public on May 1, which is observed by many as May Day.

"Students have the constitutional right to gather together to pray before school, just as they can gather to discuss sports, music or movies," explained Mathew D. Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, the firm that represented the students, in a statement. "In these days of discord and violence, schools should know better than to ban students from praying."

On Mar. 2, ten youth were given ten-day suspensions while two others were punished with one-day suspensions for holding prayer meetings in school.

The students had attempted to initiate a prayer club while at school a few weeks before the incident. The vice principal, Alex Otoupal, denied the request, however, citing that they could not meet in a private room.

For about two weeks, the individuals prayed in the cafeteria before classes began but were later told to leave that area and move outside because the cafeteria was a "high-traffic" zone. The students refused because of inclement weather conditions, which resulted with the suspensions.

After legal action was taken by Liberty Counsel, officials at the 2,400-student high school changed their position on the suspensions and will also let the students pray in the cafeteria, which can hold up to 20 students without affecting traffic flow, according to Liberty Counsel. The students will eventually be permitted to use a room to start up their own club.

"What a terrible message would have been sent to these students, some of whom immigrated from the Communist Soviet Union," added Staver. "Now they have learned that one person can make a difference in America when standing up for religious freedom."

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