The Virginia Military Institute’s tradition of prayer before evening meals is unconstitutional, according to a federal Court of Appeals, which rejected arguments that the prayer is voluntary because the cadets are adults.
The ruling emphasizes that the extraordinary obedience demanded of VMI cadets doesn’t give them the freedom to choose not to participate in what has been called a nondeno- minational, voluntary dinner prayer.
“In establishing its supper prayer, VMI has done precisely what the 1st Amendment forbids,” said a three-judge panel on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is often referred to as the most conservative of the federal appellate courts. “Put simply, VMI’s supper prayer exacts an unconstitutional toll on the consciences of religious objectors,” Judge Robert B. King wrote.
Virginia Atty. Gen. Jerry W. Kilgore said this week that he would appeal the ruling to the entire appeals court, calling the prayers “part of the fabric of our country.”
VMI is a public university with a military curriculum.
Kilgore’s office contended that the prayer tradition was historically unique, and was intended to forge a bond among members of the VMI community and encourage cadets to think about spirituality.
A VMI spokesman said the school was not leading mealtime prayers while the case was pending in court.