School board prayer out, silence in

Another Pennsylvania school board has decided to drop prayer at board meetings after getting a letter from FFRF. That means FFRF is batting 5 for 5 in recent challenges to prayers by Keystone State school boards.

Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote Aug. 17 on behalf of a local complainant to Glenn Yoder, president of the Eastern Lancaster County Board of School Directors in New Holland.

FFRF is a national state/church watchdog with over 18,500 members, including over 600 in Pennsylvania.

Markert noted that state and federal court have repeatedly ruled that prayers by public school boards are unconstitutional, inappropriate and divisive and cited the relevant cases. (The Anti-Defamation League of Philadelphia also wrote the board to complain about its invocations.)

On the weekend of Oct. 20, Superintendent Robert Hollister left a phone message at FFRF’s office that said the board would no longer be opening meetings with prayer.

According to unofficial minutes from the Sept. 17 board meeting, meetings will instead open with a moment of silence. The minutes contend there’s value in “thoughtful reflection,” i.e., prayer, but add “the board doesn’t not wish to expose our taxpayers to threat of litigation that these outside groups have implied will occur, because our tax dollars are best spent supporting the education of our children.”

The Greencastle-Antrim, Grove City, Octorara Area School Board in Atglen and Big Spring school boards also voted recently to stop praying before meetings after getting FFRF letters.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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