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Stop official prayers, FFRF demands of Va. school board

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking a Virginia school district to stop its ongoing unconstitutional practice of opening school board meetings with a prayer.

Hanover County Public Schools open every school board meeting with a prayer, a concerned resident has reported to FFRF, which has been confirmed by the board’s meeting agenda that lists an invocation at each meeting as well as which board member led

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking a Virginia school district to stop its ongoing unconstitutional practice of opening school board meetings with a prayer.

Hanover County Public Schools open every school board meeting with a prayer, a concerned resident has reported to FFRF, which has been confirmed by the board’s meeting agenda that lists an invocation at each meeting as well as which board member led the prayer.

“It is beyond the scope of a public school board to schedule or conduct prayer as part of its meetings,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to Hanover County School Board Chair Ola J. Hawkins. “The Supreme Court has continually struck down formal and school-led prayer in public schools.”

It is coercive, embarrassing and intimidating for nonreligious citizens to be required to make a public showing of their nonbelief (by not rising or praying) or else to display deference toward a religious sentiment in which they do not believe, but which their school board members do, FFRF stresses. This is especially true when nonreligious Americans make up the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population by religious identification — 35 percent of Americans are non-Christians, and this includes the more than one in four Americans who now identify as religiously unaffiliated.

“There are more than 70 years of firm Supreme Court precedent that protects freedom of conscience by barring religious devotions and rituals in our public schools,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Official school bodies should strive to be inclusive, instead of indulging in exclusionary practices.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 35,000 members across the country, including hundreds of members in Virginia. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

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