FFRF letters contest meeting invocations

Another Pennsylvania school board drops prayer

The Grove City [Pa.] Area School District Board of School Directors voted Sept. 10 "to eliminate prayer" at meetings, according to a Sept. 13 letter to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

School Solicitor Timothy McNickle was responding to a July 10 letter of complaint from FFRF and a Sept. 5 follow-up letter about the illegal prayers.

The board voted in June against changing the prayer to a moment of silence, which led to FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert's first letter. In it, she reminded the board of numerous court rulings that said scheduled prayer at school board meetings is unconstitutional.

McNickle and Superintendent Richard Mextorf then told the board that it was unlikely that the prayer would meet legal scrutiny and recommended a moment of silence instead.

Grove City is the second Pennsylvania board to recently drop prayer after getting an FFRF letter. Big Spring [Newville, Pa.] Board President Wilbur Wolf announced Aug. 28 that “prayer will be removed from future meeting agendas to avoid the potential cost of legal action against the board and Big Spring School District.”

The Foundation also sent letters in August to three other Pennsylvania school boards. Octorara Area School Board in Atglen suspended its usual recitation of the Lord’s Prayer until further review of FFRF’s request. Greencastle-Antrim School Board in Greencastle has gone to a moment of silence for the moment. FFRF is awaiting word from Eastern Lancaster County School Board in New Holland.

"Courts look askance at the imposition of religious ritual by public school boards," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Students are often represented on boards or attend meetings. They must be afforded the same protections of freedom of conscience as in the classroom."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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