A Principal Allowed Her to Deliver Bible Readings on School Property Every Morning This Past Spring

I teach at a public high school and the visitor policy works like this: If you’re not a student or staff member, you must sign in at the front desk, show identification, and declare the intent of your visit. Even if a parent is just dropping off lunch for his child, those are the rules. They apply immediately before, during, and immediately after school. I hope it’s obvious that this is all for the safety of the people in the building.

Concord High School in New Hampshire has a similar policy, but one parent was coming on school grounds every morning this past spring (from February onward), was in contact with students as they entered the building, and no one did anything about it. In fact, the principal allowed her to do it.

Why did that happen?

Because the mother, Lizarda Urena, wanted to pray for everybody:

Lizarda Urena prays before school (John Tully – Concord Monitor)

“What I am doing here is for our peace and our love, because the Bible says love your neighbor as you love yourself, and when I’m here it symbolizes peace and love and care,” said Urena, who is originally from the Dominican Republic.

Urena, who has two children in 10th grade at Concord High, has been praying off school grounds for the protection of Concord High and all schools for the past two years. Beyond the school, she travels and street-preaches in Boston, New York and other cities. But one morning in February, she saw police cars pulling up to the school to respond to the discovery of the bullets, which had been flushed down the toilet and never caused any harm. After that, she asked Principal Gene Connolly if she could pray on school property at the beginning of the day, and he assented.

“I asked Mr. Connolly, ‘Please, if you want our school to be protected, we don’t need a police car here, we need the grace of God here every morning,’” she said.

Just to be clear, the fact that she’s a parent is irrelevant here. She’s an adult who’s not on staff, on school grounds, in contact with children, and the principal told her that was okay.

That’s not okay.

Earlier this month, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the school (PDF) explaining why Urena was crossing the line:

Allowing adults, not facilitated by or through school personnel, to enter school property during the school-day to interact with children is shocking. This implies that strange adults, who happen to have religious motives, have unregulated access to young children at school. With tragedies at school and parents’ appropriate worry over adult contact with children, it is incredible that the District would allow this practice.

You can imagine how quickly the school would have stopped her if she were a Muslim reading the Koran…

There’s also the issue of the principal giving her the okay — which could be seen as a “stamp of approval” to Christianity. Does the school give a green light to anyone who wants to spread their religious beliefs in the morning? Because I’m sure Westboro Baptist Church would be first in line to sign up if that were the case.

There’s just no good reason to allow a random adult to pray on school grounds in the morning. Even though she has good intentions, why can’t she do the same damn thing from inside her home? Or does God not hear her when she prays outside school property?

After receiving FFRF attorney Rebecca Markert‘s letter, the school district (finally) did the right thing: They told Urena she could no longer pray on school grounds when classes resume this fall:

Concord’s School Board President Kassandra Ardinger supports [Superintendent Christine] Rath’s decision.

“To be fair to all the kids in the school, it is probably best for the principal to say that she shouldn’t be speaking out like this and proselytizing on school grounds,” Ardinger said. “The best mode of action was to tell her to cool it.”

Of course, a Religious Right group is arguing that this is a violation of the mother’s rights:

[Says Matthew Sharp, general counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom,] “The students know it’s the mother and her own speech — something that the First Amendment protects — and that it is not the school mandating this woman to do it.”

Sharp of the pro-prayer Alliance Defending Freedom says the group hasn’t decided whether to take up Urena’s cause.

“What this mother is doing is carrying on one of the great American traditions,” he said.

I reiterate my earlier point: If the mother were preaching any faith other than Christianity, I doubt Sharp would be defending her. If she was outside every morning, screaming, “God doesn’t exist,” you would expect cops to come haul her away.

The only reason she was able to get away with it for this long is because she’s in the religious majority.

If Urena wants to pray off of school grounds, or in her home, no one can stop her. The moment she steps onto school property, though, she has to obey the rules for the sake of the students. The administration should have known better — and, thanks to FFRF, they finally did what they should’ve done months ago.

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.