Not in Our Cafeteria

The parents of Raymond Raines, a fourth grader at Waring Elementary School in St. Louis, Missouri, taught Raymond to pray before eating, which he did faithfully each day. By all accounts Raymond was a well-behaved, respectful, and studious young man. When a teacher saw Raymond in the school cafeteria at lunchtime bowing his head to thank God for providing his food, the teacher allegedly ordered him out of his seat and sent him to the principal's office. The teacher, according to reports, apparently made no effort to downplay this scene, as Raymond was singled out in full view of the other students present.

Raymond says the principal told him that it was against the rules to pray in school and ordered him not to do it again. But since Raymond's parents had instilled in him the importance of praying at mealtime he continued to do so. On two further instances-three in all-he was allegedly taken from the cafeteria and disciplined. The school administration segregated him from his classmates, subjected him to ridicule for his religious beliefs, and eventually gave him a weeklong detention. This incident gained national notoriety when U.S. Representative Newt Gingrich, then House Speaker-elect, discussed the case on NBC's Meet the Press.

Raymond and his mother filed suit in 1994 against the city schools and the principal for violating his constitutional right to freely exercise his religion. School district officials continually maintained that Raymond had been disciplined for reasons other than school prayer. But a representative of the Rutherford Institute, a public interest law firm specializing in religious freedom cases, which was defending Raymond, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Rutherford had obtained "at least four sworn statements from witnesses who were in the cafeteria when Raymond was disciplined, as well as other pieces of information to substantiate Raymond's claims. The parties settled the lawsuit when the school board agreed to adopt a policy permits students to pray at school in a nondisruptive manner when not involved in a school activity.

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