Ariz. Public School District to Consider Vote on Opening Meetings With Prayer; Secular Group Claims Act Is Unconstitutional

A school district in Arizona is considering adding invocation prayers at their board meetings, pending the result of a United States Supreme Court decision on a similar matter.

Officials at Gilbert Public Schools met Tuesday to discuss the possibility of including prayer on the agenda for board meetings.

Jack Keegan, superintendent of Gilbert Public Schools, told The Christian Post that various details had yet to be hammered out as to how the invocation would operate.

"They're looking at creating a policy and resolution on that. So they haven't done that yet," said Keegan, adding that the prayers, if approved, were likely to occur just before the beginning of meetings.

"What they did talk about though is that just prior to convening the meeting that the prayer might take place there," said Keegan.

"When the meeting was convened, we used to have a moment of silence and this would replace that moment of silence. But, at this point, there was conversation at the board meeting that it would be prior to the actual start of the meeting."

Keegan also told CP that further tangible progress on a specific prayer policy is still pending a decision in the Supreme Court case Town of Greece v. Galloway.

The case surrounds a lawsuit against the leadership of Greece, N.Y., which has been accused of having unconstitutional sectarian prayers at their official meetings.

Last November, the Supreme Court heard arguments on the case, for which many onlookers believe has the chance to be a landmark case on church and state borders.

"They're waiting for the Supreme Court decision for the case in New York," said Keegan, regarding plans for Gilbert Public Schools.

"Since there were oral arguments and people felt comfortable they thought they'd begin addressing it now."

Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told CP that these "prayers would be a clear violation of the separation of church and state and the U.S. Constitution."

"While the Supreme Court is currently considering the constitutionality of opening prayers at meetings of city councils, school boards are subject to much stricter rules," said Luchenitser.

"The Gilbert Public Schools should therefore maintain their current practice of having a moment of silence instead of adopting prayers. Adopting prayers would make the school district highly vulnerable to litigation."

Luchenitser also told CP that "every federal appellate court to consider the issue has prohibited opening prayers at school board meetings."

"The separation of church and state is enforced much more strictly in the public school context. Children attend school board meetings, and they are particularly vulnerable to religious coercion," said Luchenitser.

"For these reasons, no matter what rules may apply to city councils and state legislatures, the U.S. Constitution does not permit any opening prayers at all at school board meetings."

If enacted, Gilbert Public Schools would not be the only school district in Arizona with invocation prayers before the official onset of board meetings.

Mesa Public Schools' five-member board unanimously approved a prayer policy wherein various clergy from the area will deliver a prayer before the start of the meeting.

"The prayer will be part of a new pre-meeting program, which will include the Pledge of Allegiance and entertainment by student musicians, planned to start on Feb. 11," reported Cathryn Creno of The Republic.

"The board's Jan. 14 vote reversed a November decision by the board to replace a formal prayer with a moment of silence."

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