Cease Christian prayers at board meetings, FFRF asks Ga. school board

Ben Hill County Board of Education

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging the immediate end to the practice of an opening religious invocation at meetings of the Ben Hill County Board of Education.

The national state/church watchdog has received a complaint from a community member reporting that the board has been opening every meeting with a sectarian Christian prayer. This is confirmed by the board’s agenda, which indicates each meeting begins with an “invocation.” Board member Kenneth Palmer opened the Feb. 7 meeting with the following prayer:

Gracious Heavenly Father, we thank You once again for this appointed time and appointed hour, God, that we come before You, asking Your leadership guidance as we govern the Ben Hill County School Board. …. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

“We ask that the board immediately cease imposing prayer upon students, staff, and community members, and instead consider a moment of silence or no board-sponsored religious activity at all, which would comply with the Establishment Clause and protect the constitutional rights of students and parents,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes.

FFRF notes that the Supreme Court has struck down prayers at school-sponsored events multiple times, ruling that school-sponsored prayer violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by showing governmental favoritism toward religion. The Ben Hill County Board of Education is additionally promoting and showing favoritism for Christianity over other religions.

FFRF has successfully sued in the past to keep prayer out of school board meetings, as seen in its case, FFRF v. Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2018 ruled the board’s promotion of Christianity unconstitutional.

It is coercive, insensitive and intimidating to force nonreligious individuals to show obeisance to or participate in a practice they do not believe in, or else “out themselves” as religious nonconformists, FFRF emphasizes. While school board members are perfectly free to practice their beliefs on their own time, using their civil powers to coerce community members to follow them in prayer is unconstitutional, and alienates the 37 percent of Americans identifying as non-Christian, including the nearly one-third of American adults who today identify as “atheists, agnostics or nothing in particular.”

In order to keep the Ben Hill County Board of Education in line with the Constitution, the practice of opening prayer must immediately be ended, FFRF states.

“The purpose of our public schools is to educate, not to indoctrinate,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “And it’s the school board’s duty to model respect for the First Amendment and the rights of conscience of all students and parents.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 39,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 600 members and a chapter in the state of Georgia. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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