Big Spring makes big decision — drops school board prayer

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has successfully removed prayer from the Big Spring School Board meetings in 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.” 

A local resident had asked for FFRF’s help in stopping the unlawful prayer before every twice-monthly meeting. Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert asked Wolf and the board in an Aug. 17 letter to discontinue the “practice of scheduling prayer.”

Markert pointed out several appeals court rulings, including a decision last year in the 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals (which is binding in Pennsylvania), have struck down prayer by public school boards. In the recent Doe v. Indian River School District case, the Supreme Court let stand the appeals court ruling that school board prayer rose above “the level of interaction between church and state that the Establishment Clause permits.” 

Markert added that nearly 1.5 million Pennsylvanians identify as nonreligious.

Wolf attributed the board’s change in policy to high legal costs and told a local newspaper that ending prayer “is the prudent thing to do.” He publicly stated that “We regret having to make this decision.” 

“It’s disappointing that a school board president would send a message that essentially undermines principles that require secular education and protect freedom of conscience,”  said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. 

“A school board should be modeling respect for secular education and 60 years of firm Supreme Court precedent against religion in the schools. Whatever reasons the board gives for stopping the prayers, we are pleased to see this egregious violation ended.”

FFRF sent letters to three other Pennsylvania school boards in August. Octorara Area School Board in Atglen has 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.

Freedom From Religion Foundation