FFRF contests Tennessee school board prayer

The McNairy County School Board has a habit of opening its meetings with prayer in the courthouse in Selmer, Tenn., and often the prayers are Christian in nature.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, on behalf of a school district resident, first complained to Board Chairman Larry Smith in November 2010. Because McNairy County Schools didn't respond, follow-up letters were sent Feb. 9 and May 12.
In her original letter, Rebecca Markert, FFRF senior staff attorney, noted that federal courts have struck down prayer by public school boards at meetings attended by students directly affected by policies and decisions made at board meetings.

"This raises additional concerns, given the line of cases prohibiting prayer at public school events. The Supreme Court has continually and consistently struck down prayer by school officials in the public schools," Markert wrote.

"McNairy County, Tennessee, is within the Sixth Circuit, which has held that prayers at school board meetings are unconstitutional. Therefore, McNairy County School Board must discontinue the practice of scheduling an invocation as part of its meetings," Markert noted. "By hosting prayers, which inevitably show preference for Christianity, the board is inappropriately imposing its religious beliefs on the parents and students who attend meetings for school business."

In its Feb. 9 letter, the Foundation asked for a written reply on the steps being taken to address a serious constitutional violation.

The May 12 letter reiterated, "We again ask that the board refrain from praying at its meetings and that you please inform us in writing of the steps you are taking to ensure the continued freedom of all McNairy County School parents to choose the type of religious or nonreligious upbringing for their children."

"The school board sets a terrible example to students when it unlawfully promotes religious devotion at a public meeting," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Religion belongs in the home, in the church. It is unnecessary, rude, divisive and illegal for the board to open with Christian prayers."

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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