FFRF again asks S.C. school board members to cease prayer


The Freedom From Religion Foundation is once again asking the Dorchester School District Two School Board to stop opening meetings with a scheduled prayer.

In 2021, FFRF contacted the district after being notified that the school board meetings and many other school-sponsored events opened with a prayer. The board agendas confirmed that each meeting began with an “invocation” led by members of the board. The prayers reportedly were always Christian. After reaching out to the district, the state/church watchdog was informed that concerns regarding school-sponsored prayer had been “addressed in accordance with state and federal law.”

However, a district community member reported that in 2022, the board resumed opening meetings with a Christian prayer led by board members. Agendas yet again confirm that each meeting has opened this way since September of last year.

FFRF is once again asking for this practice to stop immediately.

“We request that the board cease including prayer at its meetings in order to protect the rights of students, their parents, and the local community,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes.

The Supreme Court has consistently struck down prayers offered at school-sponsored events, citing governmental favoritism towards religion, which violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Other courts have ruled in a similar manner. 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. The losing school district had to pay FFRF more than $200,000 in costs and attorneys fees.

Students and parents have the right — and often reason — to participate in school board meetings. It is coercive, insensitive and intimidating to force nonreligious citizens 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.

Board members are free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their own way. However, the board ought not to lend its power and prestige to religion or coerce attendees into participating in religious exercise. Including prayer at board meetings needlessly excludes those who are among the 37 percent of Americans who are non-Christians, including the 49 percent of Generation Z who are religiously unaffiliated.

“The school board exists to oversee a secular public school system that must be welcoming to all students and parents, of every religion and of no religion,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor says. “Official school bodies should strive to be inclusive, instead of indulging in exclusionary practices.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members across the country, including hundreds of members in South Carolina. Our 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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