After receiving a warning from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an Indiana school board has ended its dubious practice of opening meetings with prayer.
At three board meetings this year, the Southern Wells Community School Board in Wells, Ind., held opening prayers with one led by the board's vice president. FFRF wrote to remind the board that public school boards should not include, schedule or conduct prayer as part of their meetings, just as public schools may not impose prayer at other school events. They also are not to engage in school-official-led prayer. In a letter to the school board president, Kevin Scott, FFRF asked that the board end the religious practice immediately.
School board prayer has time and again been struck down by federal courts as a violation of the Establishment Clause. In the federal court case Indian River School District the court emphasized that school board prayer is parallel to other school prayer cases when it comes to protecting children from the coercion of school-sponsored prayer. The court concluded that the school board's prayer was beyond the level of church and state interaction permitted by the Establishment Clause.
FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne informed Scott that prayer during Southern Wells Community School Board meetings breaches this court ruling and, therefore, is a violation of the First Amendment.
"The issues discussed and decisions made at board meetings are wholly school-related, affecting the daily lives of district students and parents," wrote Jayne. "Prayer at public school board meetings is no different than a prayer given at other school district events and is unconstitutional."
Scott replied in a letter that the school board would comply with FFRF's legal advice.
"Upon advice of our school counsel, the school board's practice of including prayer as a part of board meetings will be discontinued until the United States resolves the split between the Circuits on this issue sometime in the future," wrote Scott.
FFRF warmly commends the school board's choice to disentangle religion from public education.
"The school board did the right thing by choosing to comply with federal courts and the First Amendment," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "The public school board should focus on its secular duties to serve all of its students, including the many Millennials today who are nonreligious."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 29,000 members and chapters across the country, including over 400 in Indiana. FFRF's purpose is to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.
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