Repeal new prayer policy, FFRF insists to a N.C. school board

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging a North Carolina school board to repeal a new policy permitting unconstitutional official prayer at the start of its meetings.

At its Oct. 3 meeting, the New Hanover County Board of Education held a second reading of a policy governing official board prayer before meetings. The new policy would seemingly allow local religious leaders to open the board’s meeting with a prayer of up to three minutes in length. (The Oct. 3 meeting began with a prayer led by Joshua Reilly, pastor of Long Leaf Baptist Church.)

FFRF is urging the board to reject this proposed policy and cease imposing prayer upon students, staff and community members.

“It is beyond the scope of a public school board to schedule or conduct prayer as part of its meetings, even if the prayer is delivered by local religious leaders,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to Board Chair Pete Wildeboer. “This practice violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”

The issues discussed and decisions made at board meetings are wholly school-related, affecting the daily lives of district students and parents, FFRF points out. In a recent case striking down a school board’s prayer practice, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently reaffirmed in FFRF v. Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education 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 Chino Valley Unified School District was ordered to pay more than $275,000 in plaintiffs’ attorney fees and costs to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Students and parents have the right — and often reason — to participate in school board meetings, FFRF stresses. Including prayer at board meetings needlessly excludes those who are among the 37 percent of Americans who are non-Christians, including the 49 percent of Generation Z that is religiously unaffiliated.

For all these reasons, the New Hanover County Board of Education must rescind its proposed new policy in order to protect the rights of students, their parents and the local community to be free from religious coercion in their public schools.

“Prayer at school board meetings is a distraction from matters the school board should be instead focusing on,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “And it imposes a sectarian religious agenda on all of those attending.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members across the country, including more than 900 members and a local chapter in North Carolina. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

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