FFRF tells SC school district leaders to stop prayers at meetings

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A prominent atheist organization is again demanding that a South Carolina school district halt its practice of opening official meetings with prayers from board members.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has asked the Summerville-based Dorchester School District Two to discontinue its practice of allowing school board members to open meetings with Christian prayers.

“We ask that the Board immediately cease imposing prayer upon students, staff, and community members in order to comply with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and to respect the rights of every member of the community,” wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line in a complaint letter sent earlier this month.

“Board members are free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their own way. However, the Board ought not to lend its power and prestige to religion or coerce attendees into participating in religious exercise.”

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement released last week that school officials like the Dorchester board “should strive to be inclusive, instead of indulging in exclusionary practices.”

“The school board exists to oversee a secular public school system that must be welcoming to all students and parents, of every religion and of no religion,” stated Gaylor.

The Christian Post reached out to the school district for this report, however a spokesperson said that they do not have a comment at this time. 

The FFRF had previously sent a complaint letter to Dorchester school district officials back in March 2021, when they were first alerted to the board’s prayer practice by a concerned parent.

Although the FFRF had been told that the invocation had been resolved, the atheist group reported that they heard from a local that the invocation practice had returned last year.

In July 2018, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit issued a per curiam opinion in favor of FFRF after it sued a California school district that allowed its board members to give sectarian prayers at official meetings.

The decision upheld a lower court injunction against the invocation practices of Chino Valley Unified School District, with the circuit court panel concluding that the prayers were unconstitutional.

“The invocations to start the open portions of Board meetings are not within the legislative prayer tradition that allows certain types of prayer to open legislative sessions,” said the per curiam opinion.

“This is not the sort of solemnizing and unifying prayer, directed at lawmakers themselves and conducted before an audience of mature adults free from coercive pressures to participate, that the legislative-prayer tradition contemplates.”

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