Gingrich And The Praying Student

Remember that ten-year-old boy in St. Louis who Newt Gingrich claimed was put in detention for saying grace privately in a public school cafeteria?

Saying that "most people don't realize that it's illegal to pray" in public school, Gingrich commented on the case on Sunday, December 4, on "Meet the Press" on NBC. The case, as described, puzzled the moderator of THEIST_WATCH a great deal. You see, she went to high school in St. Louis, and felt that the possibility of finding an "anti-Christian" school in that city was very low indeed.

Well, it seems that, as with other so-called facts from conservative Christians, "it ain't necessarily so."

The case Gingrich mentioned is a litigation battle between the Raines family and Waring Elementary, a 280-student magnet school in midtown St. Louis. The family's lawsuit is currently before a U.S. district court, and the family is being represented by the Rutherford Institute. The Rutherford Institute likes to portray itself as a group that defends "religious civil liberties."

According to the Raines family, which describes itself as devout Pentecostals, when Raymond Raines was a fourth-grader when he had the habit of bowing his head to say a silent prayer before eating lunch. They claim that beginning in December 1992, several school officials, including the principal, an assistant principal, and librarian, removed Raymond from his seat and instructed him not to pray. When he refused to stop praying, they say, he was sent to the principal's office to eat, detained after lunch, or sent to the library (details from the family's attorney are not clear). His mother, Ellen Raines, complained and says she was told that praying was not allowed in school. When the school district refused to adopt a policy clarifying the rights of religious students, the family sued the school district and the principal, Cleveland Young, on April 18. The suit seeks monetary damages. The school district has filed a motion to dismiss and that action is pending. The child, Raymond, now attends a private religious school.

School officials and the school's attorney have declined to elaborate on exactly why the boy was punished because they are required by law to protect his right to privacy. Superintendent David Mahan responds, however, that the boy "was disciplined for some matters that were totally independent of silent praying. We did a very thorough investigation. We talked to teachers, administrators, and also to some students, and we could not find any evidence of the allegations that the parent and the student made." Rev. Earl E. Nance Jr, a member and former chairman of the St. Louis school board, adds "I don't think the child was prevented from praying over lunch. I think the child was probably instructed in another matter and mistook that for understanding he couldn't pray over his lunch, and went home and told his parents." Nance is the pastor of Greater Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church. He characterized the lawsuit as simply "frivolous."

And one has to ask how probable it is that a school district with a minister on its board would really forbid silent, individual praying? Chalk another one up for the Christian Disinformation Troops.

The Rutherford institute claims that it is working on over 500 similar cases of abuse of religious liberties. One wonders if the claims in them are all so questionable.

Source: Washington Post, 12/5/94