Public Prayers Against Gun Violence Banned by New Hampshire School for Not Being 'All-Inclusive'

A New Hampshire public school has recently banned a mother from saying public prayers against gun violence on the school's steps, judging that her Christian-themed prayers were not inclusive of all students.

Following a complaint issued by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Concord High School in Concord, New Hampshire decided to ask Lizarda Urena, a mother of two 10th grade students attending the school, to stop praying for peace on the school's front steps every morning.

"To be fair to all the kids in the school, it is probably best for the principal to say that she shouldn't be speaking out like this and proselytizing on school grounds," Kassandra Ardinger, the president of Concord's school board, told the New Hampshire Union Leader, seconding the suggestion of Superintendent Christine Rath to stop the praying.

"The best mode of action was to tell her to cool it," Ardinger added, referring to Concord High School principal Gene Connolly's decision to stop Urena. 

Urena, a native of the Dominican Republic, had been praying on the steps of Concord High School since February after two bullets were reportedly found in the school's toilets. Urena has stood on the front steps of the school entrance every morning from 7:00 to 7:15 to recite bible verses and pray for the safety of the children.

The mother of two reportedly wore all white and donned a cross around her neck while praying. She reportedly determined the area where she should pray by following the song of a bird, which she believed was a sign from God.

Urena told the Concord Monitor that her daily prayers are not an attempt to indoctrinate the students, but rather to bring a sense of peace and love.

"What I am doing here is for our peace and our love, because the Bible says love your neighbor as you love yourself, and when I'm here it symbolizes peace and love and care," Urena said.

The school district received a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation [FFRF] in early July after one of the parents complained to the organization, arguing that Urena was loudly praying and reaching her hands towards students as they walked into the building. The letter argued that she was disrupting the learning process.

In a letter sent to Superintendent Rath, FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert urged the school to force the mom to discontinue the morning prayers because "such an environment is not conducive to educating young minds and may even appear hostile to those who disagree with a third party's message."

"In allowing Mrs. Urena to pray aloud daily at the entrance to Concord High School, the Concord School District is placing a 'stamp of approval' on the religious message contained in her prayers," the letter added.

Matthew Sharp, general counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal group which protects religious expression, told the New Hampshire Union Leader that if the school didn't initially object to Urena's praying, it cannot later object to the contents of her speech without practicing discrimination. The Alliance Defending Freedom group has not decided whether it will take up Urena's case.

"Students and community members that are allowed to come on campus and participate in a neutral thing are allowed to express religious viewpoints," Sharp told the local newspaper. "The students know it's the mother and her own speech - something that the First Amendment protects - and that it is not the school mandating this woman to do it."

Although the school has acquiesced to the FFRF's request, it is still unclear whether further court action will be taken. Urena told the Concord Monitor that although she is disappointed to stop praying at the school, she is thankful for the opportunity to pray there for the past several months, and she will continue her prayers of peace for the students at the gas station across from the school or in her home.

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