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Students suspended for protesting prayer ruling

School prayer graphic November 6, 1997
Web posted at: 6:25 p.m. EST (2325 GMT)

ALBERTVILLE, Alabama (CNN) -- Dozens of middle school students were due to return to class on Friday, following a two-day suspension for walking out of class to protest a federal court ruling that bans school prayer.

On Wednesday, the students left Alabama Avenue Middle School as classes began and marched three blocks to City Hall. They were protesting last week's ruling by U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent which bans most vocal prayers and school-sponsored religious activities.

The school's rule had been to allow students to pray during morning announcements.

Albertville school superintendent Jim Pratt, who walked with the protesting students, says he told them the ruling does not take away an individual's right to pray. Students were told if they returned to class they would receive unexcused tardies, but if they did not they would be suspended for two days.

Eleven students returned to class but others who did not received the two-day suspension.

"We suspended 48 initially but more students walked out of school later in the day so we had a total of about 58 or 59 that were suspended," said Lynn Brothers, an assistant principal at Alabama Avenue Middle School. "We appreciate our kids and their feelings, but they have to understand they are hurting themselves. They need to be in school," he said.

"We tried to explain to them that we had nothing to do with it (the ruling), that it was a law and we had to abide by it," Brothers said. "We encouraged them to use their energy in more constructive ways, like writing letters to the judge that made the ruling. And, we urged them to come back to class."

Brothers said the students were allowed to hold an organized protest on school grounds on Tuesday.


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