A UW graduate, TIM KNOTT has called Madison home since 1991. He began his career doing campus IT support while completing a BA in English. The Internet had just become graphical and the opportunity for inexpensive, scalable communication piqued Tim's interest. After 15 years in the industry he took the entrepreneurial plunge, cofounding a startup and building a platform to help make mobile application technology as accessible and ubiquitous as the Web. The company expanded services to work on drones and the Internet of Things. Tim brings his entrepreneurial and technological skills to FFRF where he focuses on our digital products and IT infrastructure.
The Orange County Board of Education's practice of opening its meetings with invocations must end. FFRF is asking local members to protest the practice at the next school board meeting on Oct. 5.
The tradition the California school board has set up allows for interested people to request to deliver the invocation, with formal guidelines instituted for the practice. In a press release, FFRF asserts that "it is beyond the scope of a public school board to schedule or conduct prayer as part of its meetings." Another school board in California has already witnessed the consequences of ignoring the Constitution. February of this year, FFRF won a victory in California in a similar case (FFRF et al v. Chino Valley School District Board of Education). A federal court declared the practice unconstitutional and the district is now on the hook for $200,000 because it refused to stop praying at meetings..
FFRF also objects to the posting of "In God We Trust" in the school board meeting chambers, as well as the board's passing of several religious resolutions. Past resolutions have honored the National Day of Prayer, an annual Christian event, and Easter.
This sort of government endorsement of religion excludes the 23 percent of Americans who are nonreligious. Board members may pray in private or to worship in their own time, in their own way if they so choose. They may not endorse religious practices in their capacities as school board representatives.
Despite FFRF's legal requests to the Orange County Board of Education to end invocations during meetings, we have learned that the practice will likely continue at the next board meeting on Oct. 5.
Please attend the school board meeting if possible, or contact the Orange County school board and tell them to end the invocations!
When: Wednesday, October 5, 2016, 10:00 a.m.
Where: 200 Kalmus Drive, Costa Mesa, CA 92628
If you cannot attend the meeting, please phone or email to voice your concern to the Orange County Board of Education.
Feel free to utilize the talking points below:
Please end the practice of scheduling invocations during school board meetings. Promotion of religion during meetings is a violation of the principle enshrined in the First Amendment guaranteeing the separation of church and state. Intentional ignorance of the law by continuing the invocations is unconstitutional and poses a threat to free thought in California's public schools. It could also be costly—another California school board recently had its prayer practice struck down by a federal court and now must pay $200,000 of the other side's attorneys fees.
School board members are free to pray on their own time. While acting as a school board representative, you must honor decades of firm Supreme Court precedent barring divisive religious worship from public schools, instead of promoting religion by including prayer during meetings.
Read more about the FFRF's legal victory in California last February over the same violation:
- California School Board Vows to Appeal Judge's Order to Stop Praying
- Federal Judge Orders School Board to Stop Preaching and Praying at Public Meetings
- Read about the Orange County Board of Education's invocation guidelines here
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is continuing its objection to a California school board's practice of starting its meetings with an invocation.
The Orange County Board of Education has a tradition of beginning each meeting with an invocation. It allows interested people to request to deliver the invocation and has set up guidelines.
It is beyond the scope of a public school board to schedule or conduct prayer as part of its meetings, FFRF asserts. FFRF recently won a victory (FFRF et al v. Chino Valley School District Board of Education) in California over this very violation, with a federal court declaring the practice unconstitutional and awarding FFRF $200,000 in costs and attorney fees. Other federal courts have also similarly struck down the practice. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway that permits sectarian prayers at legislative meetings is not applicable because public school boards are not deliberative legislative bodies. In addition, there is no "historical precedent" or an "unambiguous and unbroken history" of prayers at school board meetings. Most important, school board members should be leading by example in upholding 65 years of firm Supreme Court precedent barring divisive religious worship from public schools.
"It is coercive, embarrassing and intimidating for nonreligious citizens to be making a show of their nonbelief (by not rising or praying) or else to display deference toward a religious sentiment in which they do not believe, but their school board members clearly do," FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote to the Orange County Board of Education last month. "Board members should not be promoting religion by including prayer in meetings."
FFRF emphasized that this sort of governmental endorsement of religion excludes the 23 percent of Americans who are nonreligious. Board members are instead free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their own way.
FFRF also objects to the posting of "In God We Trust" in the school board meeting chambers, as well as the board's passing of several religious resolutions. Past resolutions have honored the National Day of Prayer, an annual Christian event, and Easter. "Christians and Christianity have contributed greatly to the development of Orange County from the time of Junipero Serra to today," the Easter resolution states. The board has not passed any resolutions honoring any other religious holidays.
FFRF's reasoning has so far not moved the Orange County Board of Education. The organization has learned that the invocation practice will probably be continued at the next board meeting on Oct. 5. It is asking that the board immediately refrain from scheduling such invocations at future meetings and uphold the rights of conscience embodied in the First Amendment and recently reaffirmed by a California federal court's decision in FFRF's favor.
"The Orange County Board of Education can see in California itself the consequences of disobeying the Constitution," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "School boards exist to oversee secular education, not indoctrination of children."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization dedicated to the separation of state and church, with more than 23,000 nonreligious members across the country, including 3,000-plus in California.