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FFRF ends pastor-led prayers at S.D. school (January/February 2024)

FFRF successfully intervened to keep religion out of assemblies in South Dakota’s Miller School District.

A concerned district employee informed FFRF that a pastor opened and closed the district’s Veterans Day assembly on Nov. 9 with prayers. The assembly reportedly took place during the school day on district property and required compulsory attendance by the entire student body, grades pre-K through 12. The pastor asked the audience of students and staff to stand before he began the assembly with the following prayer:

“Father, we thank you that we were formed as one nation under God with liberty and justice for all. Thank you for those principles and Lord, we just ask you today that you just guide and direct the leaders of this country. Father, I pray for those in service that were disabled in one way or another that you would just bring peace to them, Lord. Just be with them and touch them, guide them and direct them in Jesus’ name Amen.”

The pastor also gave the second prayer in Jesus’ name. Additionally, the pastor made religious remarks throughout the assembly.

In a letter to Miller School District Superintendent Eric Norden, FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote, “In order to comply with the Constitution, the district must investigate this matter and ensure that no future school-sponsored events include prayer.”

Additionally, the district displayed clear favoritism toward religion over nonreligion and Christianity over all other faiths. The district serves a diverse population with diverse religious beliefs, including Jews, Muslims, atheists and agnostics.

Following FFRF’s letter, the district took action.

“I want to assure you that we have discussed this issue with our attorney, and we are committed to ensuring that there will be no future violations of the constitutional principle of separation between state and church in the Miller School District,” Norden wrote in reply.