The ACLU has threatened to sue the Naval Academy to end a tradition as old as the Academy itself. Before noon meals in King Hall, midshipmen may voluntarily participate in non-sectarian prayers. The Academy has officially rejected the objection letter from the ACLU based on complaints of certain midshipmen who choose to remain anonymous.
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The facts for this article, but not the legal conclusions, come from an article in the Baltimore Sun on 25 June, 2008. The title aptly captures the subject at hand, “ACLU tries to halt mealtime prayer at Naval Academy.”
Since the Naval Academy was founded in 1845, it has had a tradition of brief, non-sectarian prayers said before lunch in King Hall. According to the article a “group of midshipmen have complained to the ACLU. The ACLU has, in turn, written a letter to the Academy, threatening to sue against this nefarious practice of prayers at lunch.
The Academy responded with this statement from Cmdr. Ed Austin, “The Academy does not intend to change its practice of offering Midshipmen an opportunity for prayer or devotional thought during noon meal announcements.”
Even one of the graduates, who asked that her name be concealed, acknowledged that the prayers are optional. “They always say, ‘If you will, please join me in prayer.’ It’s obviously optional, but the fact that everyone around you is doing it makes it a peer influence.” The reference to peer influence is key to the ACLU claim that even though the participation is voluntary, it is actually compulsory.
Rep. Walter Jones from North Carolina, injected some common sense into the fray with his comment which appears at the end of the article, “This has just been part of the education of the midshipmen for years and years,” Jones said, pointing out that midshipmen aren’t forced to pray. “If that midshipman is standing there with his or her head bowed, they could be thinking about the next Notre Dame-Navy football game.”
Some federal court decisions would lead to the conclusion that these prayers would be halted. On the other hand, there are the Supreme Court decisions upholding the use of Chaplains in the Houses of Congress, and in state legislatures. Odds are, reason and those chaplain cases, will prevail.
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