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Some Outraged Over Prayer Service Held Before Tests

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Praying for better grades.  That's what happened inside a Baltimore City school and now legal experts say it violated the separation of church and state.

Adam May reports on the controversy.

Dozens of students and parents gathered inside Tench Tilghman Elementary and Middle School last week for a Saturday prayer service aimed at motivating students to do well on state testing.

It's supported by many in the community.

"Everybody needs some prayer in school," said one.

At the direction of principal Jael Yon, a flier was handed out to hundreds of students with images of prayer with numerous verses from the Bible.

"[The law is] crystal clear," said David Rocah, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Rocah cites Supreme Court decisions from the 1960s, which prohibit state-sponsored prayer in school.

"Not only are they unconstitutional for very good reasons, but they are divisive.  They send a message of exclusion to people who are not of the particular faith or of any faith at all," Rocah said.

School officials say they understand prayer plays an important role as a source of motivation and support, but it's clear that it is not appropriate to promote any particular religious practice. 

The principal would not comment, but some parents defend her.

"Prayer's good.  I don't see a problem with it," a parent said.

Others say it's a distraction.

"Is that gonna make a difference with the education?  That's what we're here for, taking our kids to school for," one said.

City school officials are reviewing the details surrounding the prayer event.  They say they plan to use the finding to clarify school policy.

Our media partner, the Baltimore Sun, reports a similar event was held at the same school last year, as well.

Click here for a link to WJZ's photo galleries.

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