An agreement prohibiting prayer at graduation and other school functions in Wyoming's Big Horn County may spur efforts to stop the practice elsewhere, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer said this week.
"We targeted this school, but it's not the only school doing it," said Stephen Pevar, an ACLU lawyer based in Denver. "If I find out other schools are doing it, I'll file" a lawsuit.Big Horn County School District No. 1 agreed earlier this week to settle a lawsuit brought by parents of two students at Rocky Mountain High School in Byron, a small town just south of the Montana-Wyoming border.
The parents had objected to invocations and benedictions at graduation ceremonies.
The agreement also said the school district will clarify its policy of releasing students for "religious instruction" during specified periods of the school day.
"It will require that they offer a non-credit alternative opposite every period they have release time," Pevar said. "Right now, what they do is essentially push kids towards (LDS) seminary."
Big Horn County is heavily populated by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Pevar said the agreement will be submitted as a consent decree to a judge. Once signed by the judge, it becomes a court order.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court July 31 by Howard Commers and Shannon Stevens-Commers and William and Marian Van Grinsven. They sought $50,000 in damages.
The agreement requires the school board to pay each family $100, and to pay $9,500 in attorney fees to the ACLU.
A news release from the law firm of Tracy Copenhaver, who represented the school district, said there is a "division of authority" in Wyoming's courts about the issue of prayer at graduation ceremonies. But, the school board decided its money would be better spent on education than litigation on religious issues, the release said.