School Board Member Resigns in Protest After Colleagues Decide to Vote on Prayers at Meetings

The Rockingham County Board of Education (North Carolina) has decided to vote on whether or not they should pray at meetings at the request of board member Ron Price. They currently have a moment of silence but that could change after the May 13 meeting. And we all know prayer doesn’t count unless everyone else can hear it.

Board member Leonard Pryor won’t be around for that vote, though, because he resigned in protest this week:

Leonard Pryor

In a letter he sent to Chairwoman Nell Rose on May 1, Pryor wrote:

… it was my understanding that our board was non-partisan, and that providing our children with a quality education was paramount. It was my hope that politics would play a very minimal role in the focus of our board, but much to my chagrin, this is not the case. The widespread polarization in politics has found its way into Rockingham County Schools and is detracting from what I deemed to be the role of the School Board.

We took an oath of office to support the Constitution of the United States and it is my opinion that recent motions and topics of discussion could subject Rockingham County schools and its individual board members to the threat of lawsuits in the future. According to the information presented to me, I would be obligated to defend myself in a court of law, and I will not jeopardize my family’s future if any such risk if present, no matter how small.

In addition, media coverage during my term has intimated at times that the board stands together as a whole on certain issues, which is simply not true. Since the public can form their own opinions based on what is reported in the media without hearing my side of the story, I am not willing to risk potential detriment to my livelihood, either. This is now what [I] signed up for when I decided to serve

It has been a pleasure serving with all past and present board members, and I hope and pray that our board will focus its efforts on providing a quality education for all students in Rockingham County.

That’s a pretty courageous move, to take a stand against something that popular (despite it being Constitutionally unsound). Maybe his actions will force the board members to reconsider their upcoming votes.

Pryor was midway through his four-year term and the current board will appoint someone to replace him for the remainder of that time.

I don’t know that Pryor’s an atheist — he wrote in the letter that he “pray[s]” the board will refocus its efforts. But why did he resign before the vote even took place instead of after it? Is this the first example of the board tearing down the wall between church and state? We don’t have answers to those questions yet, but I’ve contacted Pryor to see if we can get more information about his decision. I’ve also contacted Mr. Price to find out why he wants the prayers at meetings when the moment of silence should already serve that purpose. I’ll provide an update if I hear back from either person.

(Thanks to Brian for the link!)

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.