“Don’t begin school board meetings with a prayer,” the Freedom From Religion Foundation has written to the Charleston County School Board in an open letter that you can read here.
A concerned member of the school district reported that the board recently decided to open meetings with a prayer. Initially, prayers were not to invoke Jesus Christ, but this rule was removed after the board was accused of discriminating against Christians. In an attempt to be inclusive, prayers are now only allowed to have blanket references, including “God” or “the Almighty.”
“It is clear from these requirements that the board intends for these prayers to be inclusive and nonexclusionary, but it fails to recognize that not imposing any prayers on those gathered to address school business is the most inclusive practice of all,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to the Board of Trustee Chair Pamela McKinney.
FFRF is advising that the prayer no longer be said before meetings. They say including a board-sponsored prayer is in direct violation of the Establishment Clause, as well as the constitutional rights of students and parents.
The Establishment Clause forbids any government-sponsored organization from endorsing religion in any form.
FFRF said they have received a response from the Charleston County School Board’s attorney indicating that the board believes the proposed practice is constitutionally permissible.
“Board members are free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their own way,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “However, the board ought not to lend its power and prestige to religion or coerce attendees into participating in religious exercise.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 39,000 members across the country, including hundreds of members in South Carolina. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.