El Reno vice principal accused of forcing students to bow in prayer, school officials say he was playing

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EL RENO, Okla. (KFOR) – Three El Reno Public Schools students were allegedly forced to bow in prayer by the vice principal after he was allegedly offended when he heard one of the students say, "My God."

"You can't just force somebody to pray out loud in school," Lillian Skiles told News 4.

That's what Skiles and Destiny Bailey claim happened to their sister and two other students at Roblyer Middle School in El Reno on Thursday morning.

"One of her friends was trying to make her laugh. So she said, 'My God," and I guess at that time, the vice principal had came around the corner," Bailey said. "He said, 'What did you say?' And she said, 'I'm sorry, I won't say it again because it offends people,' and he said, 'Bow your head and pray,' and she asked why, and he said, 'Just do it.'"

When News 4 contacted Superintendent Craig McVay about the matter, he sent us the following statement:

"This was taken completely out of context. This was a playful exchange between our assistant principal and kids in the lunchroom before school. It was in no way a discipline action or anything of the kind. It was also not religious in nature or anything more than a humorous exchange."

"She did not take this as a joke whatsoever and neither did her friends," Bailey said in response.

"His response it being a joke, is a joke to me," Skiles said.

The two said the incident made their sister feel uncomfortable because she is not a Christian.

Joke, or not, Constitutional Law professor Joseph Thai with the University of Oklahoma said it's unconstitutional.

"The vice principal might have pulled off a hat trick and violated the three basic protections of the First Amendment – the freedom of speech, the free exercise of religion and the separation of church and state," Thai said.

News 4 also spoke with the ACLU about the matter, and they also pointed to the 1962 Supreme Court ruling that prayer in public schools violates the First Amendment.

"A school cannot require, much less force, a student to engage in religious activity. That is well-settled law, and when you have a teacher using the patina of government authority encouraging that, whether in a joking manner or not, that is not proper," Michael Redman, the legal director for ACLU Oklahoma, said.

"A lot of people don't know about the separation of church and state, and that needs to be made aware," Skiles said.

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