Indiana school district prayer stops due to FFRF


The Freedom From Religion Foundation has persuaded an Indiana school district to discontinue a practice of praying at staff meetings.

A concerned Concord Community Schools employee informed FFRF last year that at two districtwide events, the official program traditionally contains a Christian prayer, introduced and delivered by school district staff. At the August 2016 gathering, Assistant Superintendent Tim Tahara delivered a prayer asking God for strength and patience in the upcoming school year, and ended, “These things we ask in Jesus’ name.”

FFRF informed the school district that such a practice was in breach of the U.S. Constitution.

“By imposing prayer on its employees at these district-sponsored events, Concord Community Schools violates the Establishment Clause,” FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote to the district’s legal firm. “Several federal courts of appeals, including the 7th Circuit, have held that prayers at government meetings involving employees constitute an illegal government endorsement of religion.” 

Even if such employee events were not strictly mandatory, the district could not require employees to give up the benefit of participating in a team-building program in order to avoid an unconstitutional practice, FFRF emphasized. Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court has summarily rejected arguments that voluntariness excuses a constitutional violation.

Besides the legal issues, there are many good policy reasons to end this prayer practice, FFRF pointed out. Prayer at workplace meetings is divisive and counterproductive to the very purpose of these celebratory, team-building events. Such prayers create acrimony and make minorities feel like outsiders in their own school community.

FFRF advised the Concord Community Schools district to discontinue official prayers during district-sponsored events.

District officials proved to be receptive to FFRF’s advice.

After FFRF’s letter, the state/church watchdog received word from a school district attorney that the superintendent had agreed to switch to a moment of silence. Finally, the organization got confirmation a few days ago that the prayers had indeed stopped.

In an unrelated matter, FFRF is engaged in ongoing litigation with the same school district over a longstanding nativity performance that the district organizes each year

“We’re delighted the Concord Community Schools district listened to us at least on this issue,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “While we appreciate that, our lawsuit still goes on.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is national nonprofit organization with more than 29,000 nonreligious members all over the country, including 400-plus in Indiana.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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