Navy Pressured to End Lunch Prayers

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The U.S. Naval Academy is facing opposition for a second time over its daily lunchtime prayers.

In a letter sent May 2 to academy superintendent Jeffrey Fowler, the American Civil Liberties Union called for an end to the traditional practice. The group says nine midshipmen contacted them to complain about noontime prayers.

"The government should not be in the business of compelling religious observance, particularly in military academies, where students can feel coerced by senior students and officials and risk the loss of leadership opportunities for following their conscience," Deborah A. Jeon, legal director for the ACLU of Maryland, wrote.

Naval officials say "prayer and devotional thought" has been present at the academy since it was established in 1845, and that such a long-standing practice would not be ended.

"The Naval Academy offers the brigade of midshipmen a prayer or devotional thought during announcements before most weekday noontime meals at the academy consistent with other practices throughout the Navy," academy officials said in statement released Wednesday. "The academy does not intend to change its practice of offering midshipmen an opportunity for prayer or devotional thought during noon meal announcements."

Lunch is the only meal where attendance is required, but the academy says participating in the prayers are optional. Usually, a chaplain will lead prayer, in which everyone must stand. Those who do not wish to pray can stand in parade rest until the moment of reflection is over.

The Anti-Defamation League tried to get the academy to end lunchtime prayers in 2005 but was unsuccessful. They described the practice as mandatory prayer that crossed the boundaries of mixing church and state.

The ACLU has not formally filed a lawsuit.

Sources: Associated Press, Navy Times

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