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 chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Greg G.

    Why don’t they take a vote on following Matthew 6:5-8?

    5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babblinglike pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

    I bet the motion would pass even without reading it.

    • meekinheritance

      This is quickly becoming my second favorite Bible verse. (My favorite, and the one I offer to religion peddlers on my doorstep, is 1 Corinthians 13:11 (“When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.”), along with a suggestion that they, too, grow up.)

    • rlrose328

      Thank you so much for posting this… I never can remember where that verse is, so I’ve copied this and emailed it to myself for future reference. :-)

  • Baby_Raptor

    Those poor, poor christianists. They’re so persecuted by us evil, god hating Atheists. Why won’t we just let them trample all over everyone!?

  • Lee Miller

    Hemant, how do you keep your head from exploding when these things keep happening every day? My head is exploding just from reading about it, not reporting it . . .

  • http://www.facebook.com/mikehigginbo Mike Higginbottom

    Interesting that the Facebook page is now blocking further comments and has actively deleted comments, honestly perfectly reasonable polite comments as well, that I posted there earlier on.

    • Baby_Raptor

      You’re not agreeing with them that they’re a persecuted, holy minority. They can’t allow any other views in…The sheeple might start thinking.

    • Phil Cleaver

      Ha ha – I just posted that Matthew 6:5-8 verse and it got taken down in minutes. Apparently they can’t even take criticism from their own holy book.
      “I am a proud believer of the one true faith and la la la la I can’t hear you”…

      • monyNH

        You’re a better person than I am…I just visited their FB page for, like, a minute and my brain hurts.

  • Gary B

    The really sad thing about this is that they probably knew it was improper to say the prayer themselves, so they figured they could get around it by bringing in students to say the prayer and claiming it is student-led.

  • jdm8

    What student wants to go to a school board meeting for any reason? What kind of motivation are they providing to get this student?

    • Phil Cleaver

      Perhaps the threat of eternal damnation is part of the motivation…

  • baal

    I’d be much more interested in the argument from tradition if the FB posting about the prayer-chain to change atheist hearts (or similar) weren’t always floating the wings. They know as well as we do that if they pulled the plain pro-xtian message to center stage, they’d lose instantly on the legal and cultural front.

  • Barefoot Bree

    I really do not get this. Can somebody explain people like this to me? We’ve only been going over this same ground for decades, hundreds and hundreds of times, and the courts have struck down prayer Every. Single. Time. Yet they keep coming.

    Are they actually unaware of the history of this issue?

    Do they think if they keep fighting, that eventually judges will begin to change their minds?

    Or something else?

    • http://www.facebook.com/carol.lynn.710 Carol Lynn

      “Do they think if they keep fighting, that eventually judges will begin to change their minds?”

      Nagging and whining always worked before. They always got the coolest toys that way.

  • Librepensadora

    Have you noticed how those “true believers” always imagine that we militant atheists have hardened our hearts against their god? My change from belief to unbelief took place in my mind, not my heart.

  • rlrose328

    And what about the closing prayer? Looks like it is sponsored by a business?
    This type of thing has made my son never want to attend a brick and mortar school again. He’s in an online charter school called Connections (I think it’s in many states, sponsored by an actual school district) and he loves it. At least this way, in science class when the religious kids spout off about creationism in the evolution live lesson in the chat window, he can pretty much ignore them rather than hear them.

  • jtperkin

    What exactly would a non-sectarian prayer look like? I am having trouble even imagining it. Everything my brain comes up with is a potential SNL skit about christians trying to sound secular. Anyone have actual examples?


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