ACLU:A national civil liberties group is renewing a push to end mealtime prayer at the U.S. Naval Academy, where a group of midshipmen recently complained to officials that they felt pressured to participate in the longtime practice.

The tradition, believed to date back to the college's founding in 1845, now involves a chaplain's leading grace before a noon meal that all 4,200 midshipmen must attend at King Hall. Midshipmen are not required to pray, though they must stand during the recital, and most bow their heads.

Nine students recently approached the American Civil Liberties Union for help in getting the academy to end the practice. In a letter recently sent to the academy's superintendent, Vice Adm. Jeffrey L. Fowler, the ACLU threatened legal action.

"The government should not be in the business of compelling religious observance, particularly in military academies, where students can feel coerced by senior students and officials and risk the loss of leadership opportunities for following their conscience," Deborah A. Jeon, legal director for the ACLU of Maryland,


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