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ACLU files suit to end VMI’s pre-dinner prayer

ROANOKE, Va. (BP)–The American Civil Liberties Union sued Virginia Military Institute on May 9 in an attempt to end prayers at its evening meals.

The ACLU filed the federal lawsuit in Lynchburg, Va., on behalf of two cadets, Neil Mellen and Paul Knick, whose complaints about prayer were rebuffed by officials at the Lexington school, said Kent Willis, executive director of the ACLU’s Virginia chapter.

“VMI places heavy pressure on these students to participate,” Willis told the Associated Press. “Those who don’t want to pray are perceived as breaking the conformity that the school expects.”

Every night, cadets march into the VMI mess hall in formation. Before they are served, a member of the chaplain’s office reads a nondenominational prayer thanking God, said VMI spokesman Mike Strickler in an interview with AP.

Attorney General Mark L. Earley said he will vigorously defend VMI’s dinner prayer, which has been a tradition at the school since at least the 1950s.

“Cadets are not compelled to participate, remain at attention or bow their heads during these blessings,” Earley said in a statement.

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