The Enfield Public Schools system has removed the offensive practice of opening its board meetings with a prayer after the Freedom From Religion Foundation objected.
The state/church watchdog was contacted by a concerned community member who reported that members of the Enfield Board of Education regularly open meetings with prayer. For instance, board member Jean Acree offered the following prayer during a meeting last year:
Heavenly Father, we ask you to bless us with your presence at this meeting tonight. Bless all who are in attendance. Please, Lord, open the hearts and minds of this board as we listen to our presenters and our audience in attendance so that we will make sound decisions on the issues that are of great concern. I also pray for what is best for all of our Enfield children. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
FFRF asked the board to no longer open meetings with a board member-led prayer.
“It is beyond the scope of a public school board to schedule or conduct prayer as part of its meetings,” FFRF Equal Justice Works Fellow Kat Grant wrote to Board Chair Tina LeBlanc.
Public school boards exist to set policies, procedures and standards for education within a community, FFRF emphasized. The issues discussed and decisions made at board meetings are wholly school-related, affecting the daily lives of district students and parents. 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 clearly do. The school board ought not to lend its power and prestige to religion, amounting to a governmental endorsement of religion that excludes the 37 percent of Americans who are non-Christian, including the nearly one in three Americans who now identify as religiously unaffiliated.
In response to FFRF’s diligent efforts, LeBlanc informed it of a policy change that directly addresses the concerns outlined in the letter.
LeBlanc emailed, “The Board of Ed met and changed our policy on what was formerly called the Invocation/Moment of Silence with a clear definition of the meaning.” Now, a moment of silence will be held instead without endorsing any particular religion, LeBlanc told FFRF.
FFRF is pleased to see a school district taking action to protect the freedom of conscience of community members.
“School board meetings are not board members’ private churches,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We’re glad the school board has decided to put the First Amendment before their personal beliefs.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 400 members in Connecticut. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.