Another Pennsylvania school board has decided to drop prayer at board meetings after getting a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The Octorara Area School Board in Atglen voted Sept. 17 to substitute a moment of silence for Christian prayer to open meetings.
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert had written an Aug. 17 letter to board President Lisa Bowman on behalf of a local complainant about the illegal recitation of the Lord's Prayer as an invocation. She reminded the board of numerous court rulings that said scheduled prayer at school board meetings is unconstitutional.
While the school hasn't formally notified FFRF of the change, according to a LancasterOnline story, the decision was made Monday. The story said Vice President Brian Norris told the board it must honor the law and that members could meet privately to prayer before the meeting.
The advice to pray privately didn't sit well with everyone, the news story said: "Three school board members, however, stepped down from the official table to protest the change. Board member John McCartney Jr. walked to the end of the table and knelt in prayer as the school board began its new tradition of a moment of silence."
Bowman was out of town but told the board in a letter: "The board should not put the district at [financial] risk. It could affect taxpayer and student programming."
The Grove City and Big Spring school boards also voted recently to stop praying before meetings after getting FFRF letters.
"Courts rightfully look with suspicion at imposition of religious ritual by public school boards," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Students who sit on boards or attend meetings shouldn't be subject to prayer they may not want to participate in or even witness."
The Anti-Defamation League had also protested the prayers.
FFRF STAFF AND VOLUNTEERS COUNTERPICKET IN MADISON
Name: Susan Lund.
Where and when I was born: Kenosha, Wis., May 13, 1987.
Family: I have a wonderfully supportive family made up of my parents, Barb and Steve, and my older sister, Libby.
Education: I earned my B.A. in linguistics from the University of Minnesota in 2009 and recently received my J.D. from the University of Wisconsin Law School.
My religious upbringing was: I was baptized and confirmed at a large Lutheran church, and my family later became members of a very small liberal Lutheran church.
How I came to work as an FFRF legal intern: I didn’t discover FFRF until law school, but I immediately applied when I learned about the organization and heard that they were hiring legal interns. I was finally able to work with FFRF during my third year of law school, and they allowed me to stay on as a law clerk since my graduation.
What I do here: I spend most of my time doing legal research and writing. This involves looking into allegations of state/church violations, finding case law to back up FFRF’s legal assertions, and sometimes writing memos to supervising FFRF attorneys informing them that I don’t think there is a legal basis to pursue a complaint. I get to spend some time talking to members about ongoing complaints and cases, which I especially enjoy.
What I like best about it: Besides growing professionally at FFRF, I’ve grown immensely on a personal level. Through exposure to enlightened coworkers, distressed complainants and freethought literature, I’ve developed more in-depth perspectives about my rejection of religion, religion’s role in society and the necessity of state/church separation.
Something funny that’s happened: I once emailed the Dawkins Foundation with a minor legal question so that I could better address a complaint. I got an email back from Richard Dawkins himself! This was while I was reading his book The God Delusion. I was starstruck.
My legal interests are: I aspire to practice public interest law in Wisconsin. I have a wide range of experience and hope to use it to help people who are impoverished and/or disenfranchised through a combination of direct legal work and big-picture policy work. Anyone hiring?
My legal heroes are: Whistleblowers and dissenters, courageous people who put so much at stake and often sacrifice greatly to provoke positive change.
These three words sum me up: I really want to blow this question off, but I’m going to attempt it: honest, passionate, analytical.
Things I like: Crafts, cooking, learning, sharing, live music, reading, exploring, social justice.
Things I smite: Paternalism, close-mindedness, arrogance.
Today’s most important legal issue is: Expansion of corporate personhood rights. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission has played out in a number of scary ways that have huge implications for the democratic process. A recent Wisconsin example is the ridiculous amount of corporate money that entered Governor Walker’s recall election and, I believe, ultimately secured his victory.
This is relevant to state/church separation because the corporate personhood framework is being used to justify the Catholic bishops’ rejection of President Obama’s mandate for insurance to cover birth control. Employers can only object to health care provisions on religious grounds at the expense of the rights of its employees to access that health care. In essence, I believe that a system that entitles corporations to First Amendment rights drowns out human rights.