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Petitions circulate to restore prayer in public schools

July 08, 2002|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Don't tell Nancy Myers and a group from The Presbyterian Church of Hagerstown that they haven't got a prayer - they are determined to do what they can to restore prayer in public school classrooms.

"We have been silent long enough," said Sharon Wood, who, like others at the church, felt compelled to act by the events of Sept. 11.

Myers and her husband, Ron, joined up with Wood, Richard Fouke and Agnus Hessong to enlist others within their church and throughout the community to explore the possibility of putting prayer back in public schools following the terrorist attacks.

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"I was on the Internet right after 9-11 and I saw a quote about whether now is the time to push for prayer in schools again," said Nancy Myers. About a month later, she received an e-mail with hundreds of names on it.

Myers said e-mail petitions didn't seem real to her so the idea was born to begin a petition drive in Washington County. Sixty yellow legal pads soon were being circulated around the county and into nearby Pennsylvania and West Virginia, she said.

The goal is to get at least 10,000 signatures and hopefully many more times that number. Everyone 18 and older is eligible to sign the petitions, which will be submitted to Congress, Myers said.

Myers said she and others have discovered that getting the legal pad petitions in some places is harder than they thought.

"I've found you can get a petition in a barbershop or beauty salon more easily than in some churches," Fouke said.

Myers confirmed that several committee members were stopped at the door of some churches, where they were told by some ministers that the petitions weren't welcome.

"One minister said trying to get prayer back in schools would just open Pandora's box," Myers said. But most have been cooperative.

Myers and the others said they all remember when prayer was common in school, as well as at home.

"Many children today have no experience with prayer at home, so with no prayer at school, they have nothing," she said.

But Elizabeth Morgan, superintendent of Washington County schools, said the student population in the 21st century is far more diverse than in years past and that creates a problem with the concept of prayer in schools.

"We have children of all faiths and we must be sensitive to that," Morgan said. "As diversity in our community grows, it shows up in our schools."

Morgan said people should be free to pray the way they want. Prayer in the Jewish, Christian, Islamic or any other faiths would have to be respected and that would be particularly difficult in Washington County.

"We are not a faith-based school system," Morgan said. "And of course, we have to abide by the law of the land."

Still, with all the uphill battles ahead, the desire to make a difference remains strong.

"We should leave a heritage of prayer for our children and all the children of the world," Hessong said.

Hessong and others on the committee seem to have strong support at least in principle from an ex-president.

In a 1995 statement from former President Bill Clinton on the subject of school prayer, he said religion is "too important in our history and our heritage for us to keep it out of our schools."

"Religion in schools shouldn't be demanded, but as long as it is not sponsored by school officials and doesn't interfere with other children's rights, it mustn't be denied," Clinton said.

For more information on the prayer-in-schools effort, contact Myers by e-mail at ncmyers7777@aol.com.

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