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.

  • http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/ Neil Rickert

    Bravo, Leonard Pryor.

  • dawn

    why leave before the vote, give his vote than resign?

    • Nate Frein

      He may very well know that there isn’t enough support to block the shift to prayer in the school board, and so he may feel that this is the best way to make the point that this isn’t something that should be voted on in the first place.

    • Artor

      The fact that they are voting to decide if they will follow the law or not is a sign that this board is already a sinking ship. If they even think the vote is a good idea, it almost a foregone conclusion that the majority is going to vote in favor of breaking the law. I wouldn’t bother to stick around and get that stink on me either.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jim.hudlow Jim Hudlow

    They should use that moment of silence to study our secular Constitution….board of education indeed….more like bored of education….

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    If that letter is real, why does he say “This is not what signed up for when I decided to serve (sic).”

    I mean, if he knew that the sentence contained a grammatical error, why not just fix it by adding the pronoun “I” [as in: This is not what I signed up for...], rather than adding the parenthetical “(sic)” within the actual letter that he signed. It makes no sense.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      I was wondering that myself. I wonder if the board chair modified it when sending it to the press or posting it online?

    • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

      Further adding to my bemusement, there’s a typo (not/now) in the transcript that omits the “(sic)”.

  • David S.

    It’s a dramatic move, but wouldn’t it serve the people better for him to continue in his position? Better to be the voice on the board arguing for right, then to leave and lose all power.

  • TMc

    I live in Rockingham County, and I know there’s at least one other member who is against it, as is the board’s attorney. I wish Pryor would have stuck around to vote against the measure, but I understand his decision. It’s hard to stick it out when it seems hopeless.

  • Sunny Day

    I’d just start praying loudly to Apollo asking for forgiveness to those currently praying to their false gods, and talking over whoever tried to lead the current session.

    When someone objects, “Well gee I used to do this stuff during the moment of silence but you guys didn’t want that anymore.”

  • lasthop

    It seems to me that Mr. Pryor, as a Christian, found that he couldn’t support the vote for prayer, but also couldn’t afford the financial and political cost of publicly opposing it. By resigning, he maintains his integrity while avoiding the social and political fallout of being the board member who ‘opposed prayer’.

    • midnight rambler

      That was my thought too. Remember that in the Dover trial, the (Christian) plaintiffs were frequently called “atheists”, which even to non-fundie Christians seems to be the worst insult evah.

  • Burzghash

    Seems North Carolina is trying to compete with the likes of Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dean-Sherwin/1216622550 Dean Sherwin

    It doesn’t say anything in the letter about resigning because of the prayer issue, rather that there are larger politically based agreements that he does not want to be held responsible for. As noted elsewhere here, in general its more effective not to resign. As George Bernard Shaw(A notable thorn in the flesh) said ” The first rule of committee work is, never resign”

  • Truth

    The fact of the matter is Leonard Pryor has no integrity – he is simply a quitter who didn’t want to take the time to do the work required to be a public official. He only ran for school board to add something to his resume & when he realized it was actually “work” he bailed. He doesn’t care about the children of Rockingham County! I doubt he ever stepped foot in schools such as Reidsville High or Draper Elementary. As for the prayer subject….he never mentioned it in his letter. You just ASSume he quit because prayer has been suggested. His reasons for quitting in the letter were extremely vague on purpose. Why does it bother all of you so much if a group of people want to pray before a meeting? Why is this offensive? Do ALL or ANY of you attend these meetings? I think not. Be atheist if you want, but leave those of us who are Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc alone. We do not try to attack your beliefs or actions at every turn.


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