South Carolina School District Insists on Keeping Student-Led Invocations at Board Meetings

A few weeks ago, the School District of Pickens County (South Carolina) school board got a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation informing them that their student-led religious invocations at meetings had to go:

“Repeated Christian prayers do affiliate the government with one religion, so those are unconstitutional,” [FFRF attorney Patrick] Elliott said. “A prayer can’t be (said) at a school board meeting or school events. I don’t think there is any way for someone to craft a prayer that would work for a school situation.”

As you might expect, the locals weren’t happy to learn that Christianity might not receive special treatment… so they rallied around a flagpole last week at the school board’s most recent meeting:

(via The Easley Progress)

Under that pressure, the board voted to change their Christian prayer to a soon-to-be-drafted non-sectarian prayer (that could still be illegal):

Board member and Pickens representative Alex Saitta said the vote is aimed to keep prayer in board meetings

“Under federal case law, the US Congress, state legislatures, county and city councils can start their meeting with non-sectarian prayer,” Saitta continued. “Whether a school board can do that is still not decided, however, we have an opinion in hand from the State Attorney General such a practice is constitutional. The American government is obligated to defend us if we craft an [invocation] policy in line with state law, and we asked our attorney to craft such a policy.”

The two board members who voted against the idea did so only because they want to keep the prayer super-Christian:

“I’m going to vote against this and I think we should stand and fight,” Shelton said

Shelton’s sentiments were echoed by 23 speakers who gave their thoughts during the “citizens input” section of the meeting. Each speaker asked the board not to do away with the student-led invocation and was answered with a chorus of “amens” and affirmation from an excitable crowd of hundreds.

“Do you want to make a point and lose, or do you want to adjust what you’re doing a little bit and win?” Saitta asked the group. “Starting meetings of a deliberative body like the school board or county council with an invocation goes back more than 200 years to the first US Congress, and it is tradition we aim to continue.”

Unbelievable. They’re going to “adjust what they’re doing a little bit” and still lose — and the students will be the victims of their stubbornness.

It’s not like Pickens County is devoid of churches:

But instead of praying at appropriate venues, the citizens and the bone-headed school board members insist on keeping a religious invocation at their meetings.

A Facebook group called “I Support the Pickens County School Board Continuing Student-Led Prayer” just reinforces the real reason everyone wants this prayer to continue:

Let’s start a prayer chain — for the atheists who are threatening our School District. Let’s pray that their hearts, which have become hardened to the Gospel and to the Lord Jesus Christ, would be turned toward God. We’ll still be firm in our resolve to stand up for our Christian principles, but let’s offer prayers for them, even as they attack our beliefs.

No one’s attacking religious beliefs. FFRF is protecting the Constitution that these Christians want to trample over in the name of Jesus.

There doesn’t have to be a lawsuit over this. Money that should be spent on the children can still be spent on the children.

Instead of thinking about them, though, the board members are selfishly putting up a fight about something that has nothing to do with education just so they can show everyone they’re True ChristiansTM.

They’re going to lose this battle and the students will be the ones paying the price for it.

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.