FFRF tells Ohio school board to cease prayers

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging the Marlington Local Schools Board of Education to immediately stop conducting unconstitutional prayer to open its meetings.

A concerned district community member has informed the state/church watchdog that the Marlington Local Schools Board of Education opens each of its regular meetings with a Christian prayer. The complainant reported that prayers often end with “in Jesus’ name” or “in the name of our lord and savior, Jesus Christ.” The April 26 board meeting opened with the following invocation:

Dear Lord, I pray that we have a good meeting tonight. I pray that you give wisdom to our board members as they discuss our future and you provide everyone with a safe ride home. We thank you for getting everyone here. Amen.

FFRF has also been informed that several area residents, including at least one Jewish family, as well as past administrators, have complained to the board about the practice. The Board reportedly responded to past complaints by stating that Marlington Local Schools is a “Christian community.” FFRF’s complainant reported that the practice has made them feel “upset, uncomfortable and angry.”

“It is beyond the scope of a public school board to conduct prayer as part of its meetings,” FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence writes in a letter to Board President Karen Humphries. “This practice violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”

That such a practice is unconstitutional is settled law, given a decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals about a similar practice by an Ohio school board. A public school board is an essential part of the public school system, FFRF emphasizes. Public school boards exist to set policies, procedures and standards for education within a community. 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 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. However, they ought not to lend their power and prestige to religion, amounting to government favoritism toward religion and needlessly alienating those students part of the 49 percent of Gen Z who are religiously unaffiliated.

FFRF is urging the Marlington Local Schools Board to refrain from opening any future public meeting with prayer in order to adhere to the Constitution and respect the First Amendment rights of all attendees.

“The purpose of our public schools is to educate, not to indoctrinate,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “And it’s the school board’s duty to model respect for the First Amendment and the rights of conscience of all students and parents.”

You can read the entire FFRF letter here.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 1,000 members and three chapters in Ohio. Its 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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