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.

  • GodVlogger

    Awesome work! I “tip my hat” to those who worked to point out the illegal nature of the prayers at government meetings.

    This should serve as an inspiration for more of us to do the same, and to support (join) regional and national organizations that often help with these matters .

    • PA_Year_of_the_Bible

       FFRF deserves a lot of credit in this matter too, for their legal work.  AA, FFRF, and PA Nonbelievers:  The Three-Headed God of SOCAS.

  • Cuttlefish

    “At this time, the board will continue with the moment of reflection at meetings. Of importance to many people in our community, your right to speak publicly remains an important freedom that has been, and will continue to be, part of each meeting. Once again, we would like to thank our community for their support, thoughts and prayers,” the letter concludes.

    Translation: “By our understanding, while we have our moment of silence, you as individuals may publicly recite, oh, say… The Lord’s Prayer.”

    • A3Kr0n

      “audience members can be charged with disrupting a lawful meeting”
      But they aren’t…

      • PA_Year_of_the_Bible

         We are giving the Board a little time to get things under control.  We think they understand the law a lot better than their residents do.

        • A3Kr0n

           That sounds like a reasonable thing to do.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    He has an awesome combover.

  • Arthur Byrne

    The constitutional and religious issues on the prayer may be somewhat abstract. The financial is pretty tangible.

  • RobertoTheChi

    Great work guys!

  • Arthur Byrne

    The religious and constitutional issues may be too abstract for some of the locals to easily grasp. Most can understand money, however.

  • Silo Mowbray

    I’m waiting for the squalling to begin from Christianists. The sound of butthurt is recognizable from miles away.

  • Helanna

    Those damn atheists, always restricting our rights! And also those stupid courts who keep upholding that stupid constitution that says that not only are our rights not being infringed but we are in fact infringing others’ rights . . . but mostly those stupid atheists!

  • Heidi McClure

    I’ve never understood this need to pray at every single public gathering. Is that not in conflict with Matthew 6:5, do they not care, or did they not read that bit?

    “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are:
    for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of
    the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They
    have their reward.”

    Anyway, congrats, and thank you to both gentlemen, and to anyone else involved in separating church from state.

  • linda bowles

    It is unconstitutional to tell school boards to stop public prayer. If a Christian  has been practicing their faith for years by doing a public prayer at a meeting and then someone comes in and says now you can’t it is against the 1st amendment. Also everyone using that quote out of the Bible about the hypocrites, please study more, that does not mean there should be no public prayer. God is not against public prayer. It is your heart. If you are doing it to be seen it is wrong. If you are doing it to have God’s blessings and help in decision making and have a right heart we are to do it. Its a shame this is about money and not what the constitution says.

    • PA_Year_of_the_Bible

      “It is unconstitutional to tell school boards to stop public prayer”???

      WTF?  Don’t you understand that the constitution allows a private citizen to tell a school board anything he/she wants to tell the school board (short of making violent threats).  You are clearly clueless about the First Amendment, as well as the court case that applies to PA/NJ/DE/VI.  Please educate yourself and stop perpetuating the same ignorance displayed by most of the citizens attending the Greencastle-Antrim school board meetings.  But I do give credit to the fundie citizen who called me Satan (literally).  He eventually did his research and admitted publicly that he was wrong about the law.  Kudos to him.  Individual citizens have the right to audibly pray during the public comment period of the meeting, not during the designated moment of silence.  Breaking a neutral moment of silence with audible prayer is only a notch less egregious than falsely yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.  But if we must have a court decide that such speech is not protected, so be it.

    • Mandocommando23

      Are you for real? You’ve got to be kidding, right…I hope…?

    • Baby_Raptor

      So, what you’re saying is, “It’s unconstitutional to stop people whose actions I agree with from doing them,” right?

      Because it’s certainly not unconstitutional to tell government entities that they cannot endorse specific religions.