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American Legion Declines Veterans Day Event Invite

PALMYRA TOWNSHIP — Some veterans are choosing not to participate in a Veterans Day ceremony at Wallenpaupack Area High School because school officials say they are following constitutional law by not allowing prayer.

“Almighty God, Father of all mankind and judge over nations, we pray thee,” recites Pat Thompson, a board member with the American Legion Post 311 in Hawley.

The prayer Thompson is reciting is one of the prayers the legion’s chaplain reads before and after American Legion meetings.

Some American Legion members in Hawley wanted this prayer, or something similar, to be read at their annual Veterans Day ceremony at Wallenpaupack High School outside Hawley.

But the school superintendent says it’s not allowed.

“It goes back to an issue we had last year concerning graduation. We had a challenge to the fact we invited clergy to the graduation ceremony to give benediction and invocation,” said Wallenpaupack School Superintendent Michael Silsby.

After some research, Superintendent Silsby found a U.S. Supreme Court ruling which states prayer at an official district function is unconstitutional.

So because of that, American Legion Post 311 in Hawley, which has participated at the school-run event for several years, is backing out.

“We feel with our chaplain saying a prayer does not establish a religion,” said Thompson.

The American Legion Post 311 in Hawley will be recognizing and honoring Veterans Day at Bingham Park, in front of the veterans monument.

The American Legion holds a ceremony there every year. At the ceremony, their chaplain will have a prayer to bless the troops, veterans and our country.

So far, these American Legion members have been receiving support in the community.

“They should stand up for themselves,” said Sandra Wagst of Hawley.

“I wouldn’t do it either because God is good and God should have never been taken out of the school system,” said Linda Simons of Hawley.

American Legion members have also been receiving messages of support from people throughout their community.

“At least somebody out there believes in God and doesn’t mind saying they do,” said American Legion Post Commander William Kemmett.

The superintendent of Wallenpaupack says it’s disappointing the American Legion Post 311 in Hawley won’t be attending.

The Veterans Day ceremony is November 11 at the high school.

21 comments

  • Ellen Keefer

    I am writing to comment on your story about the American Legion Post in Hawley boycotting the 4th graders’ Veterans Day Program because they were told they could not have a prayer. First of all, the program has been taking place for a number of years and has never had a prayer. A few members of the post took it upon themselves to insist on including one this year. We did have a moment of silence. We also said the Pledge of Allegiance along with a number of patriotic songs that did indeed include God in them.

    We began the program to honor our local Veterans and thank them for their service. All local Veterans are invited to join in. The children create art projects, write essays and sing patriotic songs. In the past we have paid special homage to our local fallen heros.

    The children sing the anthems for each of the armed force branches and the Veterans are asked to stand and be recognized. There is hardly a dry eye.

    It is my understanding that many of the members of the post are angry that these men spoke for them when they do not agree. They are choosing to make a political statement using the children as hostages.

    I think it is important that the whole story be told. I certainly understand that people are upset because we can no longer have a prayer at graduation. That has nothing to do with the children honoring our veterans and thanking them. These men decided to tie the two affairs together and punish the children that wanted to honor them. Ellen Keefer (Retired 4th grade teacher at Wallenpaupack Area School District)

  • Beckyg

    This passage is RIGHT BEFORE the Lord’s Prayer. Even JESUS HIMSELF is against public prayer:

    Matthew 6-5: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

    Barring that, separation of church and state is the law of the land. It’s ironic how non-believers are painted as unpatriotic when we stand up for the rights of everyone in this country.

  • Danny

    Christians need to stop forcing their mythology on others. What does your imaginary friend have to do with anything? Would they welcome Muslim prayers? Of course not. They aren’t interested in prayer per se, but rather pushing their brand of Christianity. This isn’t a time for marketing. Stop cheapening thing, like sleazy salesmen.

  • Charles

    With more and more Soldiers being atheist, opening any Veterans meeting with a prayer is only acceptable due to tradition, and many, such as myself, are offended when asked to bow my head in respect for the boogyman. With Veterans organizations being so disrespectful to their own members, I understand why the organizations are shrinking.

  • donkeyfly69

    This is about Veterans. This isn’t about Jesus or Buddha or Allah or whatever. I don’t serve for a theocracy. You shouldn’t ostracize young people with a prayer. The focus of this event should be service members.

    • Michael Warner

      May I remind you that these VETERANS fought for freedom. Glad to see they’re still fighting that fight! Only this time in our own back yard. There’s a little provision in the 1st amendment that says congress shall make no law hindering our free exercise of religion. I say we stick with the original vision, not some misinterpreted version. We ALL know what this country was originally founded to be… free.

      • godlessveteran

        So, you can freely exercise your religion elsewhere. Your right to free exercise of your religion does NOT give you the right to a captive audience to force your religion on. If you have an issue with keeping prayer out of public schools (where not all students are Christian), send YOUR kids to a private school. It’s YOUR inability to compromise that’s tarnishing the character of your town. YOU are the ones making it all about forcing your religion on others instead of honoring veterans. You do not honor THIS veteran by spitting on the Constitution.

  • donkeyfly69

    This is about Veterans. This isn’t about Jesus or Buddha or Allah or whatever. I don’t serve for a theocracy. You shouldn’t ostracize young people with a prayer. The focus of this event should be service members.

  • Jason

    Religion of any kind has no place in public school and these folks need to suck it up and continue with the event they can say an extra prayer at church to make up for it if it’s that important.

  • Jon Fisher

    It’s called separation of church and state. Prayer does not belong in public schools or in Congress for that matter.

  • Stephanie Spaid

    This is not the time to debate this. It is not an issue that is going to be resolved overnight. The Vets should accept the invite and be with the kids. I am sure they worked hard preparing for the event. This day would involve bringing 2 wonderful groups of people together: our kids who are our future and the strong men and women who made their future possible!!

    • How silly.

      Oh, then it would be a whole different story, wouldn’t it Alex? In fact, people would probably be screaming to have the celebration cancelled.

  • Bill

    This is “BULL”. I’m tired of towns & schools bowing to the wish of 1 or a few and not going with the majority. I think all changes like this should be brought up for PUBLIC VOTE. Congress still has a prayer at the opening to their session. WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH THIS COUNTRY?

    • Beckyg

      Bill, how well do you know the Bible. Even Jesus himself was against public prayer:

      Matthew 6-5: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

  • Albert Vasvilla

    When we were in a fire fight in Viet Nam , I remember even seeing the people who were atheists praying to someone. Everyone always talks about the First Amendment, yet these guys fought to protect it and it is being denied to them. Great thing to teach our youth.

  • Susan Mcnamara

    I support the Hawley post 311 on not attending the veterans day program at school.I believe they should b allowed to say a prayer.with so much going on in the world I think we need more prayer.they think we r infringing because we want to say a prayer,well they won’t allow us,but the school got their way in pushing prayer out how fair Is that ? Our children need god,guidance and if the school wants to follow instead of fighting for a right to pray then I guess our children pay again for their decisions.

    • godlessveteran

      If your kids need “god”, take them to church. But you have no business making that decision for anyone else’s kids. You have a right to pray with your kids, but not to force it on other people’s kids in school. Stop your whining.

  • How silly.

    Exactly! The issue here is celebrating Veteran’s Day. It is not a religious holiday. Why have it all hinge on being able to say a prayer? Public school is for the public and therefore all religions are welcome there. As the previous commenter stated, if you want your children to have prayer in school, send them to a private, religious school of your choosing.

  • Disappointing

    Who is winning here? No one. Their inability to compromise for the sake of teaching young men and women about the importance of veterans day does not bode well for the character of the organization or our small town. Send your kids to private school if you have an issue with keeping prayer at home.

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