Atheists Obtain Evidence of School Board Prayer and Respectfully Fight Back

I’ve been pretty harsh (with good reason) to Ernest Perce V, the Pennsylvania State Director of American Atheists, on this site.

But he’s done something really awesome and it’s worth highlighting.

The Greencastle-Antrim School District (Pennsylvania) school board begins its meetings with The Lord’s Prayer. Totally illegal.

So Ernest and Carl Silverman (of the PA Nonbelievers) attended their last meeting a week ago. They recorded the prayer and then told the school board what the problem with it was:

Then, Ernest sent an official letter (PDF) — on behalf of AA — to the board members reiterating his concern and the actions he wanted to see take place:

I am not asking or demanding that the members of the Greencastle-Antrim School Board not pray during non-official times. I am asking and demanding that prayers during official school meetings end, forthwith. This will ensure that you may exercise your religious freedoms without encroaching the Constitution, and protect the citizenry from positional abuse by promoting a religious agenda.

Again, to be clear, the School Board will be in compliance with the current ruling of the Third Circuit Court by dropping any sectarian prayers and/or practices. This will ensure that the government does not take sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience.

American Atheists, Inc., respectfully requests a written notice, including an email response, as soon as possible indicating what steps the School Board will be taking to assure compliance with the Third Circuit Court and the Constitution of the United States of America.

If you listen to Ernest and Carl’s speeches in the video, you see that they’re respectful but direct about the concern. They’re not interrupting the prayer or making a scene at the meeting. They get evidence that the practice is taking place. Then they take action on it.

It’s something any one of us could do.

Now, the ball’s in the district’s court. Let’s see if they do the right thing and drop the prayer from the meeting.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Gus Snarp

    Man, the school board is not even trying, the Lord’s Prayer? It’s like the most sectarian prayer you can find…talk about excluding not even just atheists, but Muslims, Jews, anyone who’s not expressly Christian.

  • Silo Mowbray

    Careful. Christian fundies are going to become sick with how coddled atheists are. Wouldn’t want to cause them any “moral” outrage or anything.

  • Gus Snarp

    “We’ve been doing this for 25 years and no one’s ever said anything before.” [slight paraphrasing there].

    Yeah, as if that matters or in any way changes what the law says. How do people this dumb get to be on a school board in the first place?

  • Vision_From_Afar

     Or excluding someone who doesn’t use the same version of the LP. PA should know better – See the Bible Riots for what I mean

  • Vision_From_Afar

    Very well done, except Mr. Pearce (and I know he was just being honest; but there’s honest, and then there’s brutally honest) could’ve ended respectfully without the “fictitious gods” comment. I have little doubt some hackles got raised the moment that exited his mouth, and might encourage some to dig in their heels, seeing it as an attack rather than what it really is: the law being enforced.

  • Joe Zamecki

    “…no one’s ever said anything before.”   This is why it’s so important to register our complaint in the first place. If nothing else, that ought to prevent that particular argument. Ought to…

  • HowieV

    I exited from Christianity in it’s most vigorous forms after close to 30 years of adherence – and somewhat understand the mind of the believer when it comes to this sort of thing. Unlimited Sunday sermons brainwashing people into thinking they can order god around, get what they want by simply agreeing on an issue, or command the very portals of hell to obey them are all commonplace creeds of these misguided and willfully disobedient people who often feel that god’s laws circumvent or overrule the laws of man. When faced with a challenge like this they are stunned into ridiculous strawman arguments which only serve to highlight how powerless they really are in the face of the constitutional brick wall.

  • Rwlawoffice

    Although I think that the men raising the complaint overstated the holding in Doe v. Indian River School District, they are probably correct that this practice, assuming the board always says the Lord’s prayer and says it as a board, it would not pass constitutional muster. They should revise their policy.

  • B_R_Deadite99

     Yeah, this is pretty typical. Conservative Christians treat the Constitution the same way they treat the bible; they rail endlessly about the parts they like, and quietly disregard anything requiring them to clean up their acts or treat others as equals. Assholes.

  • rlrose63

    To quote Weird Al, “It’s tradition, that makes it okay.”

  • Erich Y.

    I was a student in the Greencastle-Antrim school district from kindergarten through the 10th grade.  In elementary school, they would excuse students from class for about an hour, one day a week, to attend an off-campus “Bible Release” program.  From what I can remember, the only students who stayed behind were the kids from Catholic families like mine.  My 5th grade teacher was a Mennonite, and he punished the students who didn’t attend Bible Release by making us transcribe the lectures that he would give during that time into the notebooks of the students who weren’t there.  We would each end up doing the work for 7 or 8 of our classmates while they were out memorizing Bible verses.  I’ve never understood how the school district was able to get away with doing that….I guess that nobody ever thought to complain.

  • Margaret Whitestone

     “I guess that nobody ever thought to complain.”

    And if they had there would be all sorts of outrage and people whining that “we’ve been doing this for X years and nobody’s ever complained!”. 

    People like to claim atheists and others who complain about violations of the Separation of Church and state are being mean and petty, but every time we remain silent, we give consent to the culture in which situations like yours are allowed to occur. 

  • PA_Year_of_the_Bible

     The bible release program is constitutional, as long as the religious instruction is done off-campus.  But the teacher’s actions are unconscionable.  People need to complain.

  • PA_Year_of_the_Bible

    I must give credit to FFRF who also faxed a letter the next day.  It was a cooperative effort among 3 organizations.

  • Erich Y.

    This was during the 1980s…I imagine that my former teacher is no longer with the district at this point.

  • Bill Santagata

    In Doe v. Indian River School District, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals held that Lee v. Weisman is the relevant precedent pertaining to school board meetings and therefore no government-sponsored prayers whatsoever are allowed at school board meetings. In other circuits, it is probably legal for school boards to have non-sectarian prayers under the Supreme Court precedent in Marsh v. Chambers, but this is largely untested.

  • Ed Palmatier

    It’s been a few months. What was the outcome?

  • Leiningen’s Ants

    Something even more glaring stands out to me: you were in the perfect position to absolutely WRECK the transcriptions for those lazy little religious pricks, and you DIDN’T take it? I’m having trouble of thinking of something more fun than altering dates and names and seeing how long you could get away with it! Forget complaining, I’ll take subversion any day!