The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking the Braxton County Board of Education to stop opening its meetings with prayer.
“OPENING PRAYER” is listed for each board meeting in its official agendas. A community district parent has informed the state/church watchdog that these prayers are invariably Christian and that students are often present at meetings to receive awards or for other school-related purposes.
The board must immediately cease opening its meetings with Christian prayers, FFRF insists. The Supreme Court has consistently struck down prayers offered at school-sponsored events.
“Students and parents have the right — and often have reason — to participate in school board meetings,” writes FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line to Braxton County Board of Education President DeAnna Whipkey. “It is coercive, embarrassing and intimidating for nonreligious citizens to be required to make a public showing of their nonbelief (by not participating) or else to display deference toward a religious sentiment in which they do not believe, but which their school board members do.”
In the most recent decision striking down a school board’s prayer practice, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed, in a case FFRF victoriously litigated (Chino Valley, 2018), 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.”
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 nearly 30 percent of Americans who now identify as religiously unaffiliated.
“The school board should be modeling respect for freedom of conscience and the principle of separation between religion and government,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It presumes to speak for the religious belief of the entire population of Braxton County — a presumption that is quite certainly false.”
FFRF is a national nonprofit organization with more than 36,000 members across the country, including members in West 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.