For reasons that make no sense, the Griffith School Board in Indiana began its meetings with a pastor-led prayer.
Why? Who knows. Did it help the kids? Of course not. Was it illegal? Absolutely.
While invocation prayers that are open to all are permitted at city council meetings, those rules don’t apply to school boards. That’s what the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s legal fellow Joseph McDonald tried to explain in a warning letter to School Board President Kathy Ruesken last month.
We write to urge the Board to voluntarily cease opening its meetings with prayer. Ending this practice would create a more welcoming environment for the community’s minority religious and nonreligious members. At the very least, the Board should revise its prayer practice. Replacing the prayer practice with a moment of silence would allow the Board’s meetings to come to order without ostracizing a significant portion of those in attendance.
In its current form, the Board’s prayer practice needlessly exposes the school district to legal liability while also ostracizing members of your community. Calling upon Board members, district employees, parents, students, and members of the public to pray is unnecessary and divisive…
That’s a very polite way to say the district could easily be sued into oblivion over this.
And guess what? It worked.
The board will now replace the prayer with a moment of silence:
“It was considered indoctrination of young people into a certain religion,” board attorney Joe Svetanoff said.
Ruesken said it was the board’s intention “to do what is best for the district” and that is to amend the decades old practice of prayer before the commencing of the public meeting.
“It is wise to submit to rule of law that governs public school board policies. Henceforth we will practice a moment of silence.”
I would’ve preferred they admitted they were wrong, that the prayers served no useful purpose, and that there were better ways to open their meetings than asking a deity to do the work they were elected to accomplish… but acknowledging that following the law is important is acceptable, I suppose.
Whatever does the trick.
FFRF took it as a victory either way:
“We want to impress on everyone that this isn’t a Christian country,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “When school boards realize this, it makes all our work worth its while.”
(Screenshot via YouTube. Thanks to Brian for the link)