Sep 20, 2012
Another Pennsylvania school board has decided to drop prayer at board meetings after getting a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The Octorara Area School Board in Atglen voted Sept. 17 to substitute a moment of silence for Christian prayer to open meetings.
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert had written an Aug. 17 letter to board President Lisa Bowman on behalf of a local complainant about the illegal recitation of the Lord’s Prayer as an invocation. She reminded the board of numerous court rulings that said scheduled prayer at school board meetings is unconstitutional.
While the school hasn’t formally notified FFRF of the change, according to a LancasterOnline story, the decision was made Monday. The story said Vice President Brian Norris told the board it must honor the law and that members could meet privately to prayer before the meeting.
The advice to pray privately didn’t sit well with everyone, the news story said: "Three school board members, however, stepped down from the official table to protest the change. Board member John McCartney Jr. walked to the end of the table and knelt in prayer as the school board began its new tradition of a moment of silence."
Bowman was out of town but told the board in a letter: "The board should not put the district at [financial] risk. It could affect taxpayer and student programming."
The Grove City and Big Spring school boards also voted recently to stop praying before meetings after getting FFRF letters.
"Courts rightfully look with suspicion at imposition of religious ritual by public school boards," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Students who sit on boards or attend meetings shouldn’t be subject to prayer they may not want to participate in or even witness."
The Anti-Defamation League had also protested the prayers.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.