ANNAPOLIS, Md. – The Naval Academy (search) has no plans to drop the regular saying of grace before its midshipmen's lunch, despite a policy issued this week by the Air Force to discourage most public prayer, a spokesman said.
The Naval Academy is the only U.S. military institution that holds formal prayer at lunch, a ritual that might date to its founding in 1845. Its chaplains say grace at the mandatory lunch for its more than 4,100 midshipmen.
Academy spokesman Cmdr. Rod Gibbons said there are no plans to change the tradition of what he has called "devotional thoughts." Prayers are nondenominational and are led by Roman Catholic, Jewish or Protestant chaplains.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2003 that mealtime prayers at the Virginia Military Institute (search) in Lexington, Va., violated the First Amendment.
The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Maryland and the Anti-Defamation League have asked the Navy to stop the lunchtime prayer based on that ruling, but academy leaders have declined.
David Rocah, a lawyer for the Maryland ACLU, said the organization has not been able to bring a suit because midshipmen are reluctant to "begin their career by suing the Navy."
TheAir Force Academy (search), in Colorado Springs, Colo., holds 20 seconds of silence before lunch, and no prayer precedes the noon meal at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
The new Air Force regulations came after several internal and external reviews that questioned evangelical proselytizing by faculty, staff and cadets at the Air Force Academy.
The Air Force's new policy says prayer "should not usually be included in official settings such as staff meetings, office meetings, classes or officially sanctioned activities."