Members of the Pickens County School Board of Trustees in Easley, S.C., usually open their meetings by praying. They’re considering a change in policy—to bring in local clergy to pray instead. Please contact them now and let them know the only policy change they need is to remove prayer altogether as an official school board function.
The current policy provides for board members to give nonsectarian prayers to start the meeting. Under the new policy, the board would send invitations to give an invocation to clergy members listed in a database of local religious communities. This would allow for sectarian, presumably mostly Christian, prayers.
FFRF has sent the board several letters. An attorney for the board responded only to say the board believed it was in compliance with the law, referencing cases pertaining to prayer at meetings of legislative bodies (not school boards).
Prayer at public school board meetings is different from other government meetings because it takes place in the school context. Two federal appellate courts have ruled that school board prayer is unconstitutional. School board members should be modeling respect for more than 65 years of Supreme Court precedent removing proselytizing and religious ritual from public school functions. Religion in our public schools and on our public school boards is divisive. School board members can pray privately, on their own time and dime.
FFRF filed suit against a praying school board in California last week. It is also challenging school board prayer in another South Carolina district, School District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties.
The Pickens County board discussed the issue extensively at its Oct. 27 meeting, but took no action.
If you live in the area, please try to attend a board meeting and give input. The next meeting is Nov. 24. Please also contact your board member, identifying yourself as a constituent.
Others outside Pickens County, please contact members of the Pickens County School Board of Trustees via mail, phone, or email today to voice your opposition to the board’s prayer practice.
School District of Pickens County Board of Trustees
1348 Griffin Mill Road
Easley, SC 29640
Board Chairman Brian Swords
Send your own message, or cut and paste wording below. If you live in Pickens County and/or have children in the school district, please be sure to include that information.
As a nonbeliever/atheist, I oppose the Pickens County School Board of Trustee’s practice of beginning its meetings with prayers. Prayer at public school board meetings is unnecessary, inappropriate, and divisive. It excludes students and community members who are not religious, telling them that they are second-class citizens. The board should focus on educating students, rather than promoting personal religious views. Please take action to honor the First Amendment and student rights of conscience by dropping divisive prayers altogether from school board meetings.
Name: Paul D. Redleaf, M.D.
Where I live: Lilydale, Minn., across the Mississippi from Saint Paul.
Where and when I was born: New York City, April 24, 1931.
Family: My wife, Rhoda, two sons and two daughters and their spouses, five grandsons, two granddaughters and one great-granddaughter.
Education: Great Neck High School, valedictorian, 1948; Cornell University, zoology and general studies, 1951; Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, 1955; internships and residencies, University of Minnesota, 1955-57. 1958-61.
Occupation: Internal medicine private practice in Saint Paul, 1961-80, part time 1980-83. Member, Chicago Board Options Exchange (trader in put and call options).
Military service: Captain, U.S. Army, 1957-59, serving at Fort Knox, Ky. How I got where I am today: (1) A great deal of good luck, healthwise and escaping the dangers of financial disaster on the CBOE. (2) Making the best possible choice in marrying Rhoda, a wonderful wife and absolutely perfect mother and grandmother. (3) Good decisions to leave the medical practice and options trading while ahead, and entrusting all my savings to my son Andy’s management.
Where I’m headed: Obviously, at 83, downhill. Hearing is going, no longer skiing but still playing singles tennis with buddies 10 years younger. Hoping to live out the years without dementia and eventually a good death, unburdensome to me and my family.
Person in history I admire: Obviously there are many, but I cast a vote for Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold, the only senator to vote against the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001.
A quotation I like: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” (Anatole France)
These are a few of my favorite things: Travel (having seen most of the U.S. and a good chunk of the world), classical music, good nonfiction books an periodicals
These are not: Noisy restaurants.
My doubts about religion started: While reading the biblical Book of Job in freshman English at Cornell. If there’s a God who can treat Job as he treats him, he doesn’t deserve worship. And the state of the world demonstrates that if there is a God, he is neither all-wise or all-just.
Before I die: I’d like to see some very bad actors on the Supreme Court gone and a Republican Party which could include someone like the late Jacob Javits, a U.S. senator from New York from 1957-81. (I still consider myself a Javits Republican.)
Ways I promote freethought: We’ve promoted freethought in our family. One daughter is a virulent anti-capitalist, and a son, to our chagrin, was a founder of the Federalist Society.
[Editor’s note: Paul modestly doesn’t mention his and Rhoda’s ongoing, generous endowment of the Redleaf Internship Fund, formerly at Carleton College, and now Sarah Lawrence, which allows FFRF and sother select nonprofits to employ summer interns.
Bible quotes vanish from whiteboard
The Clinton County School District in Plattsburg, Mo., ordered removal of bible quotes from a middle school administrator’s whiteboard.
In an Oct. 8 letter of complaint, Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott informed the district, “Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools.”
The school district’s attorney responded Oct. 10 to say that the bible verse had been removed.
Joel Osteen trip trips FFRF trigger
Botetourt County, Fincastle, Va., ceased sponsorship and website promotion of a trip to see megachurch pastor and televangelist Joel Osteen trip after getting a Sept. 26 letter from Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott.
“We respect the importance of government coordination of community events and trips, but holding religious events specifically for a Christian subset of citizens is inappropriate and unconstitutional,” wrote Elliott.
The county removed the event posting, and County Administrator Kathleen Guzi said in a response letter that the county was not hosting or organizing the trip and would seek legal advice regarding FFRF’s concerns.
Better ‘BELIEVE’ it: Yearbook cleansed
Gallia County (Ohio) Local Schools will no longer endorse religion on the cover of its yearbooks. The PTO of Addaville Elementary School printed and distributed yearbooks with a large cross bearing the word “BELIEVE” on the cover. Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to the school district Sept. 26.
A school district attorney forwarded Markert a letter from the superintendent to parents, explaining that the religious message was inappropriate. The superintendent also wrote to the PTO, saying that in the future, the group “must refrain from displaying any religious message or symbol in publications that are or appear to be sponsored by or associated with the Gallia County Local School District.”