FFRF urges S.C. school board to end prayer


The Freedom From Religion Foundation is insisting that a South Carolina school system immediately end the practice of scheduling divisive prayers to open its meetings.

FFRF has been informed by a concerned community member that the Colleton County School District regularly starts meetings with a Christian prayer. The complainant reports that the board invited a “pastor out of the audience” on March 21 and a “reverend” on June 1 to lead the invocation. As a member of a minority religious faith, the complainant reported feeling uncomfortable by the Christian prayers, but is worried about publicly speaking out against the practice, since the community is “so rooted in their Christianity.”

On June 13, the invocation delivered before the board was explicitly Christian and delivered “in the name of Jesus Christ”:

Dear Heavenly Father, we thank You for this day. Lord, we thank You for your mercy and we thank You for your love. Father, if it had not been for You, where would we be? And Lord, I’m asking you right now to please come into this as the business of the Colleton County School District is taken care of. Father, let there be peace, let there be harmony, let there be love. And Father, God, Lord, please cover our students and our staff, throughout this summertime leading them wherever they may go. And Father, Lord, we pray that all policies and decisions that are made are for the benefit of all. These and all blessings we pray and ask in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

The state/church watchdog is therefore asking the board to immediately cease imposing prayer upon students, staff and community members.

“It is unconstitutional for the board to host prayers at its meetings,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to Colleton County School Board Chair Patricia Simmons. “We request that the board cease including prayer at its meetings in order to protect the rights of students, their parents and the local community.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently struck down prayers offered at school-sponsored events, as it constitutes government favoritism towards religion, violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

FFRF has actually taken a school district to court over the issue of board prayer — and has won. In 2018, FFRF sued Chino Valley Unified School District over concerns about coercive prayers opening meetings. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed that Establishment Clause concerns are heightened in the context of public schools “because children and adolescents are just beginning to develop their own belief systems, and because they absorb the lessons of adults as to what beliefs are appropriate or right.” The district was ordered to pay more than $200,000 in attorneys fees and costs due to the ruling.

Students and parents have the right — and often reason — to participate in school board meetings. It is coercive, insensitive and intimidating to force nonreligious citizens to choose between making a public showing of their nonbelief by refusing to participate in the prayer or else 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, the board ought not lend its power and prestige to religion or coerce attendees into participating in religious exercise. Including Christian prayer at board meetings needlessly excludes those who are among the 37 percent of Americans who are non-Christian, including nearly one in three adults who are religiously unaffiliated and the nearly half of Generation Z who today have no religion.

FFRF is requesting that the board respect the freedom of conscience of students and community members by ending the exclusionary practice.

“Council members can pray on their own time and dime,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “They should concentrate on matters that impact the secular school district instead of making a show of faith.”

You can read the full FFRF letter here.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is an educational nonprofit with over 40,000 members nationwide, including hundreds in South Carolina, that works to keep religion out of government and to educate the public about nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

Send this to a friend