An anti-religious group has demanded the Monroe County Board of Education stop opening meetings with prayer.
For many years board members have rotated the responsibility of the prayer, most often including in each prayer a request for wisdom to make the best decisions to benefit the students of Monroe County.
School board members received a letter dated Sept. 1 from “Americans United for Separation of Church and State” in Washington, D.C. stating “We have received a complaint regarding the practice of the Monroe County Board of Education of opening its meetings with prayer,” and ending the paragraph with “Please stop this practice.”
Monroe County school board members who responded did not seem deterred.
“Saying a prayer in governmental settings is not establishing a religion; it is not a required participating event for anyone,” said Monroe County school board member Greg Head. “As long as I am in an elected position, I will not vote to hinder any God given right or personal liberty no matter how small or great it is.”
Head noted that the groups sending the letters argue against prayer at meetings based on case law and that there is case law supporting either side, bringing it down to judges making decisions.
“If Congress and the Georgia legislature can do it we can do it,” said school board member Eva Bilderback. “Somebody is just looking for something.”
The letter cites multiple court cases as precedent to prohibit prayer at BOE meetings legally, but it gives no clue as to who made the complaint, when it was made or why. It makes a lengthy argument as to why courts have found it acceptable to allow prayer to open legislative sessions and county commission meetings but not any “school-sponsored events” since “public schools did not exist when the Bill of Rights was adopted.”
The letter says the harm in opening school board meetings with prayer is that, “Religious activities at public-school events convey disrespect for students’ and families’ beliefs and send the message that families who do not practice the officially favored faith or do not participate in the religious activities are unwelcome outsiders who do not belong.”
The letter asks for a response to staff attorney Ian Smith within 30 days. Its website says it uses “high-impact litigation, powerful lobbying and grassroots advocacy” to achieve its mission.
Monroe County Schools also received letters about its opening Board of Education meetings with prayer from two other anti-religious groups, the Center for Inquiry and Freedom from Religion Foundation.