By Gudrun Schultz

  VANCOUVER, Washington, March 6, 2007 ( - A number of students who formed an interdenominational prayer group at a Washington state high school were expelled by the administration last week over their refusal to hold a morning prayer session in a closed room, The Columbian reported March 2.

  Twelve students at Heritage High School in Vancouver, WA, were suspended last Friday after continuing to meet for morning prayer in the commons area of the school, despite a faculty order that they stop causing physical "disruption" to student traffic with public prayer.

  Several students had complained about the quiet prayer circle—one student who objected was described as "pagan."

  A student who participated in the prayer group said the point of holding it publicly was to encourage others to join in.

"We’re not bothering anybody. If we’re not preaching and passing out fliers, why can’t we do it?" 16-year-old Megan Gaultier told The Columbian. "Basically, there are just the pagans who are against it." The group included Baptist, Methodist, Roman Catholic and several Russian Orthodox students, Gaultier said.

"If we’re in a secluded room, they can’t just join in" Gaultier said, as she had done herself. The small group had attracted more participants over the 1-2 week period the students met, The Oregonian reported. 

  An assistant superintendent at the school said the students were given suspensions for refusing to obey a faculty directive not to block traffic in the public area.

"No one gets suspended because they pray. This is a story of some kids who chose to defy a legitimate request by administrators to not disrupt other students," Bill Bentley said. Administrators had offered a classroom for the students’ use, to ensure other students were not offended and the group did not obstruct traffic.

  The case has quickly grown to represent simmering issues of freedom of religion on public school campuses, with pro-family Liberty Counsel, based in Florida, offering legal advice and representation to the Heritage students.

"It is absolutely outrageous that the school allowed one Satanist student to exercise a heckler’s veto over the other students’ speech," said Anita L. Staver, Liberty Counsel president. "Most of the students who were suspended are immigrants from Russia. We must show them that America is still the land of the free. School officials must immediately reverse the suspensions."

  The students attempted to start a prayer club several weeks ago, Liberty Counsel reported in a statement to the press, but were denied permission by the school’s vice principal Alex Otoupal.

  A group of students held a morning prayer session on the sidewalk in front of the grounds of Heritage High school yesterday morning, The Oregonian reported March 5—school principal Ann Sosky said the students were within their rights to do so since they weren’t on school property.

  To express concerns, contact:

  Heritage High School
  7825 NE 130th Avenue,
  Vancouver, WA 98682

  Phone: (360) 604-3400

  Principal: Anne Sosky