Mercer County School Board Approves Prayer before Meetings

The Mercer County School Board in Western Illinois knows exactly how to help students achieve their full potential: They’re now starting all board meetings with a useless, potentially illegal prayer.

… Last week a local minister asked whether the board should pray before their meetings.

“We did look into legal counsel to see what they would have to say about the issue and they said it is permissible as long as the prayer is non-sectarian and as longs as the board does not favor one religion over another”, said Superintendent Alan Boucher.

An organization of local ministers will now take turns leading that prayer. We asked around to see what residents thought about the idea that has drawn heated debate in some communities but everyone we spoke with here said they supported the idea. It may have been hard to find someone here who disagreed with the issue because the board that used to oversee the Aledo School District traditionally held a prayer before their meetings.

The majority of the voters in the community may have elected this school board, but their wishes don’t supersede the law. They cannot promote religion in the public schools and these prayers are nothing but a promotion of Christianity.

Is that too big a leap? In a county that’s 98% white, I’m guessing the rotating band of “local ministers” is going to be primarily Jesus-focused. Am I wrong?

If someone can let me know when Muslim, Hindu, and Humanist representatives are offering the school board’s opening prayer, I’ll be glad to recant my words.

Meanwhile, check out this news story about the prayer, specifically the lady at the 1:50 mark:

You can make up whatever secular motive you want, but let’s be honest: the reason this prayer is happening is because some community members want to inject prayer into the system. First, it’s the school board meeting. It won’t be long before they want it back in the classrooms.

I’ve informed the Freedom From Religion Foundation about this. Hopefully, the legal scare will get them to do their jobs correctly — by spending meetings focusing on the students and not on how board meetings should provide a venue for the wishes of local religious leaders.

(via Religion Clause)

  • http://ossurynot.com Tony Russo

    I’m a reporter in Maryland and one of the towns I cover actually says the Our Father beforehand. In the five years I’ve covered the school board they’ve never had a non-christian give a prayer, which always follows the form: Heavenly Father, thank you for allowing us to be here today.
    I tried to get the editor to let be begin each story with, “After securing the blessings and permission from God and giving him proper respect and thanks, the board of education…” but he wasn’t having any of it.
    We think of small towns as being religious, but it’s more about exclusion, I think. The prayers send the overt message, “If this seems weird to you, you don’t belong here.”
    I’d pay a nickel, however, to see a Goddess worshiper take a crack at an opening prayer. Hopefully there would be flowers.

  • Ron in Houston

    One of the targets of the religious right have been school boards. They’re easy for them to take control over since the elections generally fall off schedule to the major elections in November.

    Unless I go and actually search for it, I wouldn’t know when the elections are for our local school board.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Unfortunately, I think they’re right about the law. As long as the prayer is non-sectarian, they can have one, even if it explicitly mentions “Father God” or “Lord”. At least, that’s true for a legislative body.

    Oddly enough, our courts have ruled that “sectarian” can only mean sects within a religion, rather than religious vs. non-religious. Generic prayers have been ruled constitutional.

    That’s basically the response we got from Americans United for Separation of Church and State when councilman Anton Konev tried to replace the moment of silence before city council meetings with a prayer:

    Thank you for contacting Americans United. The courts agree that it is permissible for a legislative body to open its meetings with prayer, so long as that prayer is not exploited to advance or disparage any particular religion. Generally, this means that so long as the prayer is not sectarian — meaning specific to one religion — then it is constitutional. An example of a sectarian prayer is one that invokes the name of Jesus Christ (because that is specific to the Christian religion). A non-sectarian prayer is one that includes language that could be applicable to many religions, such as “Dear Lord” or “Heavenly Father.”

  • http://criticallyskeptic.blogspot.com Kevin

    I can’t see the video – it’s not loading for me here at work, anyone have a short summary?

  • Siobhan in Vermont

    “Both kahnds, Country AND Western”

    They’ll be representin’ ALL faiths, presbyterians, methodists, catholics, evangelicals…

    Sheesh

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    They’re now starting all board meetings with a useless, potentially illegal prayer.

    Well, to be honest, the prayer isn’t completely useless. It serves the purpose of bullying the non-religious and to show-off how pious one is.

    Of course, New Testament scripture advices otherwise (Matthew 6:6) but who really reads the bible nowadays? Certainly not self-righteous politicians publically praying before government meetings…

  • http://criticallyskeptic.blogspot.com Kevin

    I got to see it, clicked on the webpage link. It’s kind of sad how Christianity has to sneak their way through to try to get their agendas pushed.

  • littlejohn

    Nitpick alert! Supersede (with two s’s) is the second-most commonly misspelled word in English. First place? Minuscule. (just one i)

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    littlejohn – You are correct. I failed!

    It’s fixed now :) Thanks!

  • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

    Exactly where do school boards get their lawyers from? It may be legal, but it is also a minefield. If a minister says the prayer, does that make it sectarian? No one would assume that a minister is praying to Buddha. And I got ten bucks that if they do this, with in a year, they will be saying a Christian prayer.

  • http://criticallyskeptic.blogspot.com Kevin

    @littlejohn:

    Where does misspell fall on the list of commonly misspelled terms? (That word made me not win the spelling bee in fourth grade. I chalk fifth grade up to a bad pronunciation of a word I’d never run into until then.)

    Yes… ironically, I misspelled ‘misspell’

  • TychaBrahe

    How can any prayer that mentions “Our Father” or “the Lord” not be sectarian? It specifically includes only monotheistic religions. If people cannot mention Jesus because that excludes Jews and Muslims, why can they mention a single male deity at all, since that excludes Buddhists, Shintoists, Taoists, Hindus, Pagans, and Confuscianists?

  • BMcP

    Is that too big a leap? In a county that’s 98% white, I’m guessing the rotating band of “local ministers” is going to be primarily Jesus-focused. Am I wrong?

    I don’t think tying ethnicity to religion is the right thing to do. This could just as easily happen in a theoretical American county that is 98% Black or 98% Hispanic. You are right that it will be mainly Christian ministers, but that has to do with percentage of Christians, not the percentage of whites.

  • Jeff Dale
    Is that too big a leap? In a county that’s 98% white, I’m guessing the rotating band of “local ministers” is going to be primarily Jesus-focused. Am I wrong?

    I don’t think tying ethnicity to religion is the right thing to do. This could just as easily happen in a theoretical American county that is 98% Black or 98% Hispanic. You are right that it will be mainly Christian ministers, but that has to do with percentage of Christians, not the percentage of whites.

    That’s a good point, but it makes me think of a similar point that Hemant might’ve tried instead.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m guessing that U.S. communities that are 98% one ethnicity (white, black, or Hispanic) tend to be mainly Xian. Likewise, I’m guessing that U.S. communities with religious diversity tend not to be 98% of one ethnicity.

    If that is so, then Hemant could’ve said that the lack of ethnic diversity suggested a lack of religious diversity. Still, as worded, his claim would not be any less correct, but would simply be a specific example of my general claim about ethnic and religious diversity.

    /tangent

  • http://yamipirogoeth.blogspot.com/ Sakura

    Lady at the 1:50 mark is kinda scary…and obviously shows she knows nothing of the constitution and the point of the separation of church and state.

  • Alan E.

    The biggest factor is that it deters people of other religions from wanting to move to the area. If, say, a Muslim or Hindu family had to move there for a job, then they are at a disadvantage and are instantly made pariahs. Same goes for any other religion aside from the “correct” one. You shouldn’t think about the now, but the “what may be” as well. The school system should be one that welcomes all creeds without subtle judgment, and the system is doing just the opposite with these prayers.

  • http://reanhouse.blogspot.com Sarah

    So what we need to do is find some local wiccans, muslims, jews, hindus, rastafarians, jains, buddhists, ba-hais, et al to take turns leading prayers. We’ll see how long the school board decides to keep with the practice.

  • David D.G.

    Sarah, don’t forget to include a Laveyan Satanist. That ought to be a hoot!

    ~David D.G.

  • Spurs Fan

    So many things wrong with this. When asked by the reporter about unintended prayers, the Super replied that they could always do away with it if it “doesn’t work”. So, as long as the prayer is generic Christian all is good. First time someone prays to Allah or Shiva, we’re pulling the plug!

  • Nick

    I can’t exactly explain why, but every time I here “not favor one religion over another” it make me think of the idea of “separate but equal.”

    Does that happen to anybody else? I’m having a hard time articulating any parallels.

  • muggle

    Yes, Nick, it does. Because it’s the same bullshit with a new tag. It’s saying we know we Christians will have 95% of the praying limelight. You others will definitely get put on the bottom of the list.

    This guy specfically gave the impression that as soon as a non-Christian demanded their turn at bat, they’d discontinue — probably for two weeks then he’ll give into “public pressure” (since there would be a convenient Christian outcry) and, yep, the list would be drawn anew — this asshat minister would be the first and the pagan chick with flowers praising a goddess instead of our father would again be placed at the end of the line.

    Legal or not, I know I would not be tolerating this in my grandson’s school. Mostly, I’m leaving these things up to my daughter who is not the bitch I am but something that outrageous, I’d have to do something. Loudly.

    However, Jeff, you give me a suggestion that I will hopefully need. If ordinary citizens can say the invocation, I’d request a turn at bat and just recite a lot of buybull verses starting with the one about not being as hypocrites and praying in closets and throw in the stuff about welcoming strangers and not judging least ye be judge.

    Anyone think they’d get the message?

    That video sent chills up my spine. Of course, they couldn’t find anyone disagreeing. No one’s exactly eager to get lynched. Those people did not seem liked they’d take kindly to someone, even another Christian, saying this is wrong.

    What really frosts my cookies was one minister says shouldn’t we and they immediately cowtow and kiss his ass and do this? After all, God’s law comes before man’s law, right?

  • Ron in Houston

    Exactly where do school boards get their lawyers from? It may be legal, but it is also a minefield.

    Well, I’ll say this about lawyers – their first goal is to facilitate the goals of their clients.

    A good lawyer will clearly explain the ramifications of their strategy and will clearly note the mindfields.

    A lesser lawyer will just tell them “well it’s legal” and figure that if a mine explodes well that’s the clients problem and it means more work for the lawyer.

    It’s always hard to say which it is. As Jeff P pointed out, this prayer is not useless. It’s actually quite useful for proving the the school board members are pious and devout folks.

  • http://lyvvielimelight.blogspot.com/ Lyvvie

    I’d love to see random signs for protest like those used against Westboro Baptist church and the white power rallies. Perhaps over the heads of those praying, there could be signs reading “Thinking about what to make for dinner” “Did I leave the oven on??” “How to get the spark back in my marriage…” “Next one’s a Ferrari.” “Lottery numbers, please?!”and so on.

  • TheLoneIguana

    I’m thinking one of those air horns used at a sporting event might be useful.

    “In the name of Jesu-”

    WHOOOONK! “Penalty!”

  • Kevin

    I find it interesting that so much protest is raised up in the name of “constitutional freedom FROM religion or seperation of Church and state” when neither is a constitutional gaurantee. The Constitution forbids the State from establishing a Church.

    You have the right to have faith in whatever you wish. Rather that shoving your faith in the lack of a God down the throats of everyone else. Why don’t you try involving yourself in the “rotation” and voice your “invocation” at the meetings. IF you are refused the oppertunity then you would have a case.

    As it is you are just a collection of SAD blow hards. Become part of a solution rather than the problem!


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