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'Your will be done'

Church-State | Barred by a federal judge from hearing the "official" graduation prayer, 100 public-school students stand spontaneously and recite the Lord's Prayer during ceremonies

Issue: "Global shame," June 15, 2002

For months, Michael Ervin had been looking forward to offering the prayer at his high-school graduation. For hours, it looked like that would be impossible. But for years to come, he'll be remembered as the kid who prayed anyway.

Michael, vice president of his class at St. Albans High in Charleston, W. Va., had already received approval from the principal for his prayer: Father, it began, "You are the reason we are here and everyone needs to acknowledge that."

Civil libertarians were not in an acknowledging mood.

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"It serves to describe a view of God as an active force that guides people's lives," gasped a lawyer with Americans United for Separation of Church and State. A U.S. District Court judge agreed.

Just hours before the May 30 ceremony, he ruled that the student-led prayer was an "unwanted intrusion of religion at a school-sponsored graduation."

"It was kind of a shock," says Michael, who attended the hearing before Judge John T. Copenhaver. "I thought the school board presented its case really well. I didn't think he'd order me not to pray."

At the ceremony that night, when the time came for a prayer, a teacher invited audience members to observe a moment of silence instead. That's when Michael-and about 100 other students-rose, bowed their heads, and recited aloud the Lord's Prayer. It wasn't the prayer he'd intended to give, but that's OK with him.

"I learned that God can turn anything around to His glory," says the 18-year-old, who plans to attend Bible college in the fall. "Students in other schools have had spontaneous prayers. It's opened up doors for the gospel."

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