WOODBINE, Iowa A federal judge has ordered the Woodbine High School choir to stop rehearsing the Lord's Prayer until he rules whether it can be sung at graduation.
On April 26, U.S. District Judge Charles Wolle heard arguments in a teleconference court hearing by the Iowa Civil Liberties Union, which sought the temporary injunction that would block the practicing of the song before a trial May 9 in Council Bluffs.
Wolle said in his order yesterday that he would issue a decision immediately after completion of that trial.
The ICLU filed a lawsuit April 2 on behalf of two choir members, sophomores Donovan and Ruby Skarin, who come from an atheist family. The ICLU maintains that the students shouldn't be forced to sing the Lord's Prayer or be placed in a situation that they would be separated from the choir.
"The students, Ruby and Donovan, are going to be required to engage in that enterprise," said Randall Wilson, lead counsel for the ICLU. "It would also bother them to single them out not to participate in the choir."
Countering the ICLU is the Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based nonprofit ministry that has branched out into legal battles. The Liberty Counsel was brought in by students at Woodbine who want to sing the song.
"We've been in contact with several students of the choir," said Joel Oster, an attorney for the Liberty Council. "We just very recently found out about this case."
Wolle said the Liberty Counsel could file its briefs later, and due to the speed of the case, the judge allowed the firm's attorneys to participate in the April 26 hearing. The choir students wanting to sing the song may have a good case, Oster said, because recent court rulings have said that people may not be "hostile" toward religious speech.
"The Supreme Court has made it clear that religious speech is not second-class speech," Oster said. "You can't restrict speech just because it's religious."
In his order yesterday, Wolle said that if the choir is permitted to sing the Lord's Prayer at the ceremony, it would have ample time after May 9 to rehearse it before the May 19 scheduled performance.