Atheist group FFRF demands NC school district stop holding Christian prayers at meetings

Olivia Snow/Unsplash
Olivia Snow/Unsplash

The atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation has demanded that a school district in North Carolina quit the practice of beginning meetings with Christian prayers.

The Union County Board of Education received a letter from the Madison, Wisconsin-based atheist organization demanding that it stop offering Christian prayers at school board meetings.

“The Union County Board of Education has received the letter from the Freedom from Religion Foundation and is evaluating the request,” read a statement from school district spokeswoman Tahira Stalberte to The Christian Post. 

Last week, FFRF sent a letter to Michele Morris, general counsel with Union County Public Schools, expressing opposition to the board’s practice of allowing Christian clergy to open meetings with prayer.

“We write to remind the Board that opening school board meetings with prayer is unconstitutional and to request that it end this practice immediately,” wrote FFRF staff attorney Christopher Line to Morris.

“Board members are free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their own way. The school board, however, ought not to lend its power and prestige to religion, amounting to a governmental endorsement of religion which alienates non-religious Americans.”

In 2014, the United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Town of Greece v. Galloway that prayers, even sectarian ones, could be given at government meetings.

“The Court must decide whether the town of Greece, New York, imposes an impermissible establishment of religion by opening its monthly board meetings with a prayer. It must be concluded … that no violation of the Constitution has been shown,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the majority.

“As practiced by Congress since the framing of the Constitution, legislative prayer lends gravity to public business, reminds lawmakers to transcend petty differences in pursuit of a higher purpose, and expresses a common aspiration to a just and peaceful society.”

However, in 2018 a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld an injunction against a California school district’s practice of allowing school-sponsored Christian prayers at meetings.

“The Board's prayer policy and practice violate the Establishment Clause. 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,” read the panel ruling.

“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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