After voicing Lord's Prayer at graduation, pastor organizes group for school prayer

by Daniel Walker Guido, posted Tuesday, December 28, 1999 (18 years ago)

WASHINGTON (BP)--The pastor of a Southern Baptist church in Maryland is calling on Southern Baptists nationwide to join him in fighting for the right to pray in school.

Douglas Myers first reached national prominence when he led a spontaneous recitation of the Lord's Prayer during high school graduation exercises at Northern High School in Calvert County, Md., in mid-1999.

Julie Schenk, president of the school's Fellowship of Christian Athletes, was first given permission to lead a prayer during the graduation ceremony, but then told she could not after another student contacted the American Civil Liberties Union in protest.

Instead, Schenk called for a moment of silence. It was at that time that Myers began loudly praying the Lord's Prayer. The entire audience soon joined in, including teachers, the principal and even police officers.

The prayer was reported nationwide in the media.

Myers, pastor of Bayside Baptist Church, Chesapeake Beach, said he subsequently decided he could not stand idly by while "our rights to self-expression were eliminated." He thus formed the "Right to Pray Coalition" with several other Calvert County pastors and residents. The group has opened an Internet website: www.right-to-pray.org. The organization now has several dozen members who meet twice a month to plan ways to educate the community and propose legislation to keep the right of prayer in schools.

"We have the right, here in Maryland, under Article 36 of the state constitution, to have public prayer without being censored. But our state's attorney general has issued an opinion that students have no right to pray at any public event, and that they cannot even have a moment of silence. We find that not only absurd, but unconstitutional," Myers said.

State courts unfortunately are acting as though the attorney general's opinion is law, Myers said, and are acting to curtail any public prayer, even those led by students at student events.

"What we intend to do is protect the right of students and others to pray at public events," Myers said. "If we stand by and do nothing, we'll lose that privilege altogether. We cannot afford to stand on the sidelines wringing our hands."

Myers hopes Baptists throughout the nation hear about his committee's fight and adopt similar programs in their states.

"I'd like to see this get all the way to the Supreme Court," he said. "This isn't an issue of faith, but one of self-expression and freedom of speech. Why should one student, which is what happened here, stop the will of the majority?

"We live in a democracy where it is supposed to be that majority rules. But it seems when it comes to school prayer, the minority rules each and every time," Myers said.

Myers said he hopes to hear from Southern Baptists and other Christians from around the country. "This is not the time to stay silent," he said. "We must make our voices heard."

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