The Freedom From Religion Foundation has successfully dissuaded an Indiana school board from opening its meetings with an injection of religion.
The Lebanon Community School Corporation Board was beginning its meetings with a prayer. A video of the Oct. 19, 2021, meeting confirms (even though any mention is missing from the agenda) that “as is our custom, we begin our time with a word of prayer.” A prayer was then led by a board member:
Join me in prayer. Dear God, establish the work of our hands and bring to fulfillment all that you have given us to do in these uncertain days. We pray that you would make our way purposeful and our footsteps firm out of your witness and love. Give us a heart of wisdom to hear your voice and make us strong by your favor and grace. Amen.
The Supreme Court has consistently struck down prayers offered at school-sponsored events, FFRF reminded the school board. Scheduling or conducting prayer as part of its meetings is beyond the scope of a public school board and violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman wrote to Lebanon Community School Corporation Board President Elizabeth Keith.
In the most recent case striking down a school board’s prayer practice (a case FFRF successfully litigated), the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed that Establishment Clause concerns are heightened in the context of public schools “because children and adolescents are just beginning to develop their own belief systems, and because they absorb the lessons of adults as to what beliefs are appropriate or right.”
The state/church watchdog also emphasized that prayer alienates nonreligious Americans, who make up the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population by religious identification — 35 percent of Americans are non-Christians, including more than one in four Americans who now identify as religiously unaffiliated. It requested that the Lebanon Community School Corporation Board immediately refrain from scheduling prayers as part of future meetings.
FFRF’s missive had its desired effect.
“After consultation with its counsel, the board has decided to open the meeting with a moment of silence instead of a prayer,” the school district’s law firm recently wrote back. “That practice has been followed since receipt of your letter.”
FFRF is always glad to lend its hand in ending constitutionally erroneous practices.
“Public schools exist to educate, not indoctrinate, a purpose that the school board must model and uphold,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We appreciate that the school board has dropped this sectarian and exclusionary practice.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 36,000 members and several chapters across the country, including almost 500 members and a chapter in Indiana. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters related to nontheism.