A Pennsylvania public school district has discontinued injecting religion into each school board meeting due to intervention by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
A concerned Montrose Area School District community member alerted the state/church watchdog that the school board had a practice of opening every meeting with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer following the Pledge of Allegiance. Additionally, all nine members of the board were reportedly participating in reciting this Christian prayer, during which students were sometimes present.
FFRF sent a letter to Superintendent Christopher McComb, alerting the district to the unconstitutionality of beginning official district meetings with prayer, especially when students are present.
More than 60 years of U.S. Supreme Court decisions have affirmed that religious ritual and indoctrination are inappropriate and illegal as part of school-sponsored events, FFRF emphasized.
“Students and parents have the right — and often have reason — to participate in school board meetings,” FFRF Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler wrote. “It is coercive, embarrassing and intimidating for nonreligious citizens to be required to make a public showing of their nonbelief or else to display deference toward a religious sentiment in which they do not believe, but which their school board members clearly do.”
FFRF requested the district respect the First Amendment by refraining from scheduling prayers at official board meetings — and its plea had the desired effect. McComb informed FFRF via email that “this practice has ceased and will no longer continue.”
“We commend the district for correcting this ongoing violation,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Board members are free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their own way. The school board, however, cannot lend its power and prestige to religion.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 35,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 1,000 members and a chapter in Pennsylvania. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.