FFRF asks Idaho school board to end unconstitutional prayer practice

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is insisting that the Minidoka County Board of Trustees stop imposing religion on district students, parents and community members by having Christian prayer start each board meeting.

A concerned Minidoka County School District parent has informed the state/church watchdog that the board opens all of its meetings with Christian prayer led by trustees. The board’s agendas and videos of meetings confirm that every meeting begins with a Christian prayer. At the March 18 meeting, Trustee Juan Perez opened the meeting with a prayer delivered “in the name of our savior Jesus Christ.” The Feb. 26 meeting began with a prayer delivered by Trustee Jacob Claridge “In the name of thy Son Jesus Christ,” and the Jan. 23 meeting started with a prayer delivered by Trustee Rick Kent in the name of “Jesus Christ.”

“It is beyond the scope of a public school board to schedule or conduct prayer as part of its meetings,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to Board Chair Russ Suchan. “This practice violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”

In the most recent case striking down a school board’s prayer practice, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is controlling in Idaho, sided with FFRF in reaffirming 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.” The Chino Valley Unified School District was ordered to pay more than $275,000 in plaintiffs’ attorney fees and costs to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

A public school board is an essential part of the public school system. Public school boards exist to set policies, procedures, and standards for education within a community. The issues discussed and decisions made at board meetings are wholly school-related, affecting the daily lives of district students and parents.

Students and parents have the right — and often have reason — to participate in school board meetings. 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 feel they must 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. The school board, however, 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 and the nearly 50 percent of Generation Z who have no religious affiliation.

FFRF is urging the board to uphold the rights of conscience of students, families and other members of the community and abandon this unconstitutional practice.

“School boards should be using their time and energy to tackle educational issues, not to pray,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “And it is an improper imposition of a sectarian religious perspective on those who don’t share that faith.”

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