Cease your official praying, FFRF tells Va. school board

A Virginia school board needs to stop engaging in its newly instigated ritual of official prayer, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is insisting.

Multiple school district parents have informed the state/church watchdog that the recently elected Rockingham County School Board chair, Matthew Cross, has decided to change a longstanding practice of a moment of silence and has begun imposing prayer on students, parents and community members. The board’s Jan. 8 gathering began with Cross explaining that he had unilaterally decided to resume starting meetings with prayer because “we need God’s help”:

Next, tonight is something new that is on our agenda here in Rockingham County. It once  was on our agenda back in 2010, and as the chairman of the board, I have decided we will follow suit with our local officials … along with the United States Congress and open this governing body with an invocation. I believe the majority of our community would agree with me; we need God’s help in the days we are living in, and so, tonight if you would join me in a moment of prayer. If you don’t, that’s okay as well, but I am going to say a prayer as we open up tonight. 

Cross then led attendees in prayer:

Heavenly Father, we need Your wisdom, Your discernment, understanding, and patience. Protect our children, our teachers and administrators, and staff while they are in our schools. May Your peace that goes beyond all understanding rest upon our schools. Amen.

FFRF is asking that the Rockingham County School Board return to a moment of silence out of respect for the First Amendment.

“The Supreme Court has consistently struck down prayers offered at school-sponsored events.” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to Cross. “In each of these cases, the Supreme Court struck down school-sponsored prayer because it constitutes government favoritism towards religion, which violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”

The most recent judgment against school board prayer comes from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in FFRF v. Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education. When FFRF secured a court order in the case, the court ordered the district to pay FFRF more than $200,000 in the plaintiffs’ attorney fees and costs. After appeal, the court ordered the district to pay an additional $75,000 for attorney fees and costs for a total of more than $250,000. If the Rockingham County School Board continues opening its meetings with prayer it will subject the school district to unnecessary liability and potential financial strain, FFRF warns.

Students and parents have the right — and often reason — to participate in school board meetings, and that’s why it is coercive, insensitive and intimidating to force nonreligious citizens, such as FFRF’s many complainants, to choose between making a public showing of their nonbelief by refusing to participate in the prayer or else display deference toward a religious sentiment in which they do not believe, but which their school board members clearly do. Needlessly including prayer at board meetings excludes the 37 percent of Americans who are non-Christians, including the 49 percent of Generation Z who are religiously unaffiliated, FFRF stresses.

This is why FFRF is asking that the Rockingham County School Board cease unconstitutionally including prayers at meetings.

“The school board needs to respect the right of conscience of students, family members and the community at large,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It can’t bully people in the name of religion.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members across the country, including close to 1,000 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. 

If you are an FFRF member, sign into your account here and then update your email subscriptions here.

To become an FFRF member, click here. To learn more about FFRF, request information here.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

Send this to a friend