FFRF erases prayer from Pennsylvania school board agenda

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has been successful in removing prayer from the Big Spring School Board meeting agenda in Newville, Pa.

School board president Wilbur Wolf told The Sentinel yesterday that “prayer will be removed from future meeting agendas to avoid the potential cost of legal action against the board and Big Spring School District.”

A local complainant informed FFRF that the board began every twice-monthly meeting with a prayer.

FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert asked Wolf and the board in an Aug. 17 letter to discontinue the “practice of scheduling prayer” as part of school board meetings.

Markert pointed out several appeals court rulings, including a decision this year, in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals (which has jurisdiction over Pennsylvania) have struck down prayer by public school boards. In the recent Doe v. Indian River School District case the appeals court ruled that school board prayer rose above “the level of interaction between church and state that the Establishment Clause permits.”

“The issues discussed and decisions made at Board meetings are wholly school-related, affecting the daily lives of district students and parents,” wrote Markert.

Wolf attributed the board’s change in policy to high legal costs and told The Sentinel that ending prayer “is the prudent thing to do.”

“Ending this type of egregious public school violation is a huge feat. We hope that other school districts will learn form Wolf’s wise decision and take steps in their own community to honor the Establishment Clause,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

FFRF added that nearly 1.5 million Pennsylvanians identify as nonreligious, so school boards should not lend their power and prestige to religion, amounting to a governmental endorsement of religion.

“It’s imperative we keep up with the growing trend toward secularism and encourage board members to worship on their own time,” added Gaylor.

FFRF sent letters to three other Pennsylvania school boards in August and is waiting for a response from Octorara Area School Board in Atglen, the Eastern Lancaster County School Board in New Holland and the Greencastle-Antrim School Board in Greencastle. 

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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