Texas school board’s prayer practice is divisive, says FFRF


The Freedom From Religion Foundation is spotlighting a Texas school board’s troublingly divisive practice of regularly having Christian prayer at its board meetings.

A concerned Midlothian ISD resident has contacted the state/church watchdog regarding the board’s practice of opening meetings with exclusively Christian prayers. For instance, on Dec. 12 last year, a board member told the story of Christmas from the bible before leading the opening Christian prayer:

I’d like to start this meeting with a little story. This is a great time of the year – we celebrate Christmas. I think we ought to start with The Christmas Story. As it was, Joseph and Mary were traveling to Bethlehem to be taxed. And Mary was great with Child. While they were in Bethlehem, came time for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her first-born son wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid him in the manger ’cause there was no room for them in the inn.

And in the same country shepherds abiding in the field watching over their flocks by night. An angel of the Lord appeared before them and the Glory of the Lord shown about them. And the shepherds were frightened. And an angel said, “Fear not! For I bring you tidings of great joy. For unto you this day, in the City of David is born a Savior, Christ the Lord.” And the angel was joined with a multitude of heavenly beings shouting praises to God, saying: “Glory to God in the Highest; Peace on Earth to all men.” And that’s what this community shares with each other. If you’ll pray with me. Lord, we thank You for this time that we gather as a board to go about the duties of our office. Allow us to have understanding and just share the good will that we have; to give us knowledge and wisdom in all that we do we ask this in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

By including only Christian prayers, often with proselytizing or other sectarian religious content, the board’s current practice violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, FFRF points out.

“It is well settled that public schools may not show favoritism towards or coerce belief or participation in religion,” FFRF Attorney Chris Line writes to Midlothian ISD Board of Trustees President Tami Tobey. “Moreover, government-sponsored prayer ‘has the improper effect of coercing those present to participate in an act of religious worship,’” to quote the U.S. Supreme Court.

Though the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals approved of a school board prayer practice in American Humanist Association v. Birdville Independent School District, the factual background that led to the court’s approval diverges significantly from the way things are practiced in Midlothian. Birdville ISD had established a decades-long practice of opening school board meetings with student-led statements, that “could include an invocation.” In contrast, the Midlothian ISD Board of Trustees has board members, not students, open its meetings with only Christian prayers. Unlike the board in Birdville, the Midlothian board has not made any attempts to be inclusive.

The board is an essential part of the public school system. Students, parents and district employees have the right — and often have reason — to participate in school board meetings, FFRF emphasizes. While those in the religious majority may view opening prayers as striking an appropriately solemn tone to mark the start of a meeting, the prayers have the opposite effect for those who do not hold the same religious beliefs. Minority religious families, students, employees and those who practice no religion at all should not be required to make a public showing of their nonbelief, or else display deference toward a religious sentiment in which they do not believe, in order to take part in official business.

FFRF is asking that the Midlothian ISD Board of Trustees refrain from scheduling invocations as part of future meetings in order to respect the rights of conscience all in attendance.

“Our society is growing more and more diverse,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The Midlothian board should not be imposing sectarian Christian prayer on the community, especially when its sole purpose is to promote public education, not indoctrination.”

Read FFRF’s legal complaint letter.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with approximately 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 1,600 members and a local chapter in Texas. 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

Send this to a friend