Attorney: Prayers at school board meetings, school events unconstitutional

  • Friday, September 7, 2012

The Georgetown County School Board opens its meeting with a prayer.
There have been prayers at graduation ceremonies and at football games.
All those prayers are unconstitutional the practice needs to stop.
That was advise given to the school board  by district attorney David Duff at its meeting Tuesday evening.
Duff was at the meeting to offer guidance on how the district should respond to an in-depth Freedom of Information Act request from the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU is investigating the religious activities that are permitted in every school district in the state.
The request is for documentation about board meetings, graduations, sports events, curriculum and other activities.
“It’s a comprehensive and detailed request,” Duff said.
The district’s board meeting agenda does list “invocation” at the start of each meeting. At the board’s regular monthly meeting, a pastor from an area church says the prayer.
The district has a rotating list of pastors who are called to say the prayer.
At the board’s monthly workshop, a board member or staff member is asked to pray.
“We are not permitted to promote or foster religion. That is the separation of church and state,” Duff said. “Despite how important religion is in our personal lives, we must abide by what the courts have said.”
Duff said “the safest way to start any meeting is with a moment of silence.”
Ironically, there were two prayers to start Tuesday’s meeting. Rev. S.K. Davis, who was supposed to lead the prayer, was late so the opening prayer was given by District Superintendent Dr. Randy Dozier who used the term “heavenly father” in his invocation but never used the name Jesus.
Davis, after he arrived, was allowed to pray. He used terms such as “father” and asked for a “touch of God” for the district in the prayer he ended with the phrase “in the mighty name of Jesus Christ.”
Prayer has already stopped at some of the county’s football games.
Carvers Bay area resident Al Dennis spoke during the public comment period, expressing his disapproval that there was not a prayer at Friday’s Carvers Bay game.
Student led prayers, such as the annual See You at the Poll, is permitted, Duff said.
Students are alowed to pray alone or with other students as long as it is not initiated by anyone in the district.
Dozier said there will be “no immediate changes” in the way the district handles prayers but it will be a decision the school board will have to make.
It’s possible the board will discuss the matter at its workshop on Sept. 18.

Read more in Friday’s Georgetown Times.

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