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Missouri School Holds Prayer Sessions Despite Complaint

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FAYETTE, Mo. (AP) - A mid-Missouri high school continues to hold prayer sessions on school grounds despite a legal complaint that claims the sessions are unconstitutional.

Fayette Schools Superintendent Tamara Kimball said district administrators haven’t considered ending the Friday morning sessions since the American Humanist Association filed a complaint in November. The district doesn’t believe it has done anything wrong by allowing the Fellowship of Christian Students to conduct the sessions, she said.

“The question would be, `Why?”’ she said. “If we’ve done something wrong and we need to do something different, we would certainly be open to that . but to end something for the sake of ending something with no real reason is not how we operate.”

The complaint was filed by the humanist association, a student and a parent of a former Fayette student, The Columbia Daily Tribune reported. It seeks to end the prayer sessions and “any similar illegal activity,” as well as damages from the defendants.

When the complaint was filed in November, Monica Miller, a legal consultant for the humanist association, said the meetings took place during school hours and were promoted by a math teacher, Gwen Pope.

In an answer filed Dec. 23 by attorney Duane Martin, the school district, Pope and former Fayette High School Principal Darren Rapert said the sessions were held after school doors were unlocked but before classes officially began.

While acknowledging that Pope sometimes would say `amen’ at the end of the student-led prayers and occasionally bowed her head and closed her eyes during the prayers, the defendants said Pope’s participation constituted “private speech,” on her part. She also made flyers for the group and was given a religious book by the Fellowship of Christian Students but the defendants denied that Pope refused to promote other clubs or displayed the book in her classroom.

The defendants also acknowledged that Rapert announced the meetings over the school public address system but said he also made announcements for other clubs. Pope and Rapert both left the district after the 2012-13 school year.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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