Do prayers have a place in public meetings?

Classes from seven Utah high schools tackled that and other weighty topics Friday at the State Capitol during the state Bicentennial Competition on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.After a morning of fielding questions about the Constitution from a panel of 21 judges that included politicians, lawyers and educators, a class from Judge Memorial High School in Salt Lake City was named the winner. Those students will represent Utah in the national competition to be held in Washington, D.C., later this month.

Other schools that vied for the honor were: Hillcrest High School, in Midvale; Springville High School, Springville; North Summit High School, Coalville; Orem High School, Orem; and Bonneville and Ben Lomond high schools in Ogden.

Each class was broken into teams that answered questions on specific areas of constitutional knowledge ranging from the document's beginnings to its modern-day applications.

During the questioning of a team of Hillcrest students on the rights and responsibilities outlined by the Constitution, the issue of whether prayers should be said in local government meetings was raised.

The students thought for a moment. Then Steve Thompson, 16 and a junior at Hillcrest, said that prayers may be said at public meetings because listeners weren't being asked to believe in their content and could just observe a moment of silence.

Byron Olschewski, also a 16-year-old junior at Hillcrest, added that local governments should make sure all religions have an opportunity to give the prayers. There should be no favoritism shown, Olschewski said.

Before the competition began, the students assembled in the House of Representatives' chamber and were lectured by Gov. Norm Bangerter on their responsibilities as citizens to become active participants in government.

Bangerter described the special feeling he said overcame him when he sat in the chamber as a first-time political candidate 14 years ago. "This is really where the Constitution and our democratic form of government works," he said.

The governor praised the teachers who prepared the students for the competition, saying their effort "shows a lot of commitment to the future of this country."