FFRF objects to proposed Ohio prayer policy

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is protesting an Ohio school board’s prayer policy.

Norwalk City School Board of Education meetings have regularly opened with a prayer, in spite of repeated FFRF objections. FFRF has learned that the school board has deliberated over the issue and will consider a written policy formalizing opening meetings with a prayer next week (currently scheduled for April 12).

The policy is one typically drafted for legislative bodies and doesn’t apply to school boards. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, of which Ohio is a part, has determined that a school board is distinct from legislative entities.

“What actually occurs at the school board’s meetings is what sets it apart from the deliberative processes of other legislative bodies,” the court said. “Simply stated, the fact that the function of the school board is uniquely directed toward school-related matters gives it a different type of ‘constituency’ than those of other legislative bodies—namely, students.”

Furthermore, a federal district court in California recently ruled in FFRF’s favor in a lawsuit filed against the Chino Valley School Board for a similar violation, awarding the organization attorneys fees and costs totaling more than $200,000. In the case, the court scrutinized a written policy that was virtually the same as the Norwalk school board’s proposed draft. 

The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in its ruling clarified that a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision providing an exception for prayers at legislative bodies did not change this analysis. The court wrote, “If anything, Town of Greece further supports the notion that the legislative exception is limited to houses of governance in the world of mature adults.” It concluded that “the policy and custom of reciting prayers … constitute unconstitutional government endorsements of religion.”

FFRF urges the Norwalk school board to reject its draft policy proposal and drop the practice of scheduling prayer before school board meetings altogether. “The law, particularly in Ohio, is clear on this issue: Prayer before school board meetings is unconstitutional,” says FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a state/church watchdog organization with 23,000 members nationwide, including more than 600 in Ohio.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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