Two Pennsylvania Atheists Convince School Board to Drop Lord’s Prayer from Meetings

Everyone give a big Internet high-five to Ernest Perce V (Pennsylvania State Director of American Atheists) and Carl Silverman (PA Nonbelievers)!

They’ve been attending school board and city council meetings in Greencastle-Antrim in Pennsylvania trying to convince the them to drop the Lord’s Prayer, a 50-year-old tradition in the district.

When you watch the videos and media coverage, it looks like it’s the two of them versus the world.

Turns out that’s all you need:

Brian Hissong, Greencastle-Antrim School District Board of School Directors vice president (Roxann Miller – Herald-Mail)

Brian Hissong, [Greencastle-Antrim School District Board of School Directors] vice president, announced that after legal consultation regarding Harrisburg-area atheists’ threats of legal action if the prayer stayed, that recitation of the Lord’s Prayer led by board members would be stopped… Following the demand by the atheist groups, the school board promised it would fight to keep the prayer. Through a legal evaluation the board learned it was not likely to win any battle to continue the practice and announced its intentions to the public.

The board’s statement on why they’re discontinuing the prayer is *hilarious* — they’re trying to explain to the Christians why this isn’t a battle worth fighting and the argument boils down to “We can try to keep saying the prayer, but we’d lose tons of money, and it’s just not worth it.”

If we were to pursue this situation legally, we would automatically lose at the first judicial level, because that court system is required to follow the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling.

If appeals are lost the school district could be responsible for covering the plaintiff’s court costs. These costs, in neighboring districts, related to the teaching of creationism, was in excess of $2.2 million, negotiated down to $1 million.

You can see video of Hissong announcing the decision here.

If they’re worried more about the financial aspect than the Constitutional one, that’s their business. Either way, the atheists came out on top. All they had to do was present their case. They did it politely, laid out the facts, and never actually filed a lawsuit. The mere threat of one was enough to convince the board to change its actions.

Perce and Silverman are pleased with the ruling but they know their job isn’t done yet:

Both Perce and Silverman said they will continue to monitor the Greencastle meetings to assure the audience will not disrupt the moment of silence. In Pennsylvania, the audience members can be charged with disrupting a lawful meeting, which is a misdemeanor.

That’s great activism. Hats off to them for their work!

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.


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