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Court Blesses School Prayer

When classes resume in Alabama next fall, public school students will be allowed to pray before class, after class or all day long if they choose, and they will do so with the blessing of a U.S. federal court.

Opponents of school prayer call it an outrage, reports CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts.

Attorney Pamela Sumners says, Â"In this ruling, three judges lit a match to the federal constitution, and they're whistling Dixie while it burns. We have known what the law was in this area for the past 40 years, and this court has defied the U.S. Supreme court.Â"

In 1963, the U.S. Supreme court ruled that school prayer was unconstitutional. But Alabama skirted the law by allowing prayer before ballgames, in small groups on campus, even a word at graduations.

Three years ago, a high school assistant principal thought that was unconstitutional. A district court judge agreed. But now a federal appeals court has ruled they were both wrong.

Bill Pryor, Alabama attorney general, calls it Â"a victory for free speech in Alabama. It's a victory for the first amendment in Alabama."

And it's a case that could impact every school district in the country.

Gerry Weber of the American Civil Liberties Union, says, Â"A lot of folks will be advocating to school boards that this is the green light to put prayer back in school. I think what it in fact is, is a series of yellow lights that say school boards should proceed with caution.Â"

The ruling in Alabama comes with certain restrictions: Kids can pray when they want to, as long as school officials are not involved. Opponents are expected to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.