FFRF demands that Florida school board stop praying

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is strongly protesting a Florida school board’s habit of regularly praying.

The Duval County Public School Board starts each of its monthly meetings with a prayer. Its agenda always lists an invocation or a thought of the day at the start, prior to reciting the pledge of allegiance.

Public school boards cannot schedule or conduct prayers as part of their meetings, FFRF contends.

“Federal courts have struck down school board practices that include this religious ritual,” FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to the Duval County School Board on May 3. “The U.S. Supreme Court has continually and consistently struck down prayers at school-sponsored events.”

Students, parents and members of the public have the right (and often have reason) to participate in school board meetings. Nearly 30 percent of Americans practice a minority religion or no religion at all, with almost 24 percent of adults and 35 percent of millennials identifying as nonreligious. It is coercive, embarrassing and intimidating for nonreligious citizens to be required to make a public showing of their nonbelief or to be forced to show obeisance to a creed they don’t believe in.

FFRF asserts that having school board members, parents, students and members of the public pray is unconstitutional. It asks the board to immediately refrain from scheduling prayers to uphold the right of conscience embodied in the First Amendment. Board members are free to pray privately or worship on their own time. But the school board cannot lend its power and prestige to religion.

“We have no objection to a ‘thought for the day’ so long as it’s not an euphemism for promoting religion,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “School board members should be encouraged to think—since the purpose of public schools is educational—but not to pray.”

After FFRF’s initial letter, the Christian advocacy legal group Liberty Counsel issued a specious response that Seidel effectively refutes.

“Religious law firms like Liberty Counsel exist to push their own agenda,” he writes in a May 16 letter to the Duval County School Board. “FFRF simply wants to ensure the board abides by the Constitution by stopping the prayers.” 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is dedicated to the separation of state and church, with 23,700 nonreligious members, including more than 1,200 in Florida, as well as a chapter (Central Florida Freethought Community) in the state.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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