Stop praying at your meetings, FFRF tells N.C. board of education

crest for Public Schools of Robeson County, Pride - Unity - Equality - established 1989

No Christian prayer should launch your meetings, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is insisting to the Robeson County Board of Education in Lumberton, N.C.

A concerned Public Schools of Robeson County parent has informed the state/church watchdog that the board begins each meeting with a Christian prayer led by a board member or district employee. For instance, the meeting last month started with a Christian prayer led by board member Henry Brewer:

Let us pray. Almighty and wise God, creator of the universe, we thank You, Lord, for allowing us this day to see. We thank You, Lord, tonight, God, for the invitation to be able to come, Lord, tonight and to pray with these men and women to make great decisions for the Public Schools of Robeson County. We ask you, Lord, tonight, to strengthen the superintendent from day to day as he makes decisions for the Public Schools of Robeson County. We pray tonight, Father, for each board member as they make their decisions, Lord, as they make their decisions concerning the Public Schools of Robeson County. … Father, we thank You again for this day, that you allowed us to see. … In Jesus’ name we do pray, amen.

FFRF is asking that the Robeson County Board of Education immediately cease opening its meetings with prayer out of respect for the First Amendment rights and the diversity of its students and the community.

“The Supreme Court has consistently struck down prayers offered at school-sponsored events,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to Robeson County Board of Education Chair Randy Lawson. “In each of these cases, the Supreme Court struck down school-sponsored prayer because it constitutes government favoritism towards religion, which violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”

Further, federal courts have held that opening public school board meetings with sectarian prayer also violates the Establishment Clause. In the most recent case striking down a school board’s prayer practice, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals 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 emphasizes. It is coercive, insensitive and intimidating to force nonreligious citizens, such as FFRF’s complainant, 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. Needlessly including prayer at board meetings excludes those among the 37 percent of Americans who are non-Christians, including the 49 percent of Generation Z that is religiously unaffiliated.

“A sectarian religious prayer at the start of a board of education meeting begins things off with an insensitive, discordant tone,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “These meetings should instead be focused on what they’re meant to be concerned about: education.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 800 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.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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