Groups challenge school prayer decision

  • Wednesday, September 19, 2012

  • Updated Wednesday, September 19, 2012 5:44 am

The interpretation of the Constitution by the American Civil Liberties Union that has caused the Georgetown County School Board to discontinue the practice of opening its meetings with a Christian prayer is being challenged by both the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Palmetto Family Council.
As reported by the Georgetown Times last week, the ACLU has issued Freedom Of Information requests to every school district in the state as the organization investigates religious activities that take place in schools and at school-related events.
Last week, Georgetown County School District attorney David Duff, strongly urged the school board to replace opening prayers with a moment of silence.
Board Chairman Jim Dumm said the board will follow that advise and there will no longer be prayers at other events such as graduation ceremonies and district-sponsored sports events.
The ACLU joined forces with the ACLU of South Carolina last month to launch a “Religious Freedom Goes to School” campaign to encourage freedom from religion in South Carolina’s public schools.
The organization, in a letter to school districts, says its campaign is being conducted to protect “time-honored First Amendment rights.”
The ACLU’s statewide inquest began after an incident last year in Chesterfield County in which a Christian rock artist known as B-Shoc and youth evangelist, Christian Chapman, were allowed to hold a concert during the school day at New Heights Middle School in Jefferson.
Duff explained to the school board the First Amendment — while known mostly as the freedom of speech act —  does contain clauses that prohibit government entities from promoting or fostering religion.

Differing view

The Alliance Defending Freedom — made up of nearly 2,200 allied attorneys — disagrees with the ACLU’s interpretation of the Constitution.
“The Constitution should be the only permission slip students need to exercise their freedom of religion,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Matt Sharp in a letter to school districts.
“The ACLU’s ‘Religious Freedom Goes to School’ campaign paints a restrictive picture of the freedoms for students, teachers, and school administrators that the First Amendment protects. School districts in South Carolina should be wary of taking advice about religious freedom from an organization that frequently seeks to give that freedom a backseat to their own social and political agenda.”
According to the ACLU’s campaign, public schools should pattern their religious freedom school policies after a single settlement that the ACLU reached in a lawsuit against the Chesterfield County School District. The settlement put an end to various religious activities within the district.
The ADF says the Chesterfield settlement “does not accurately represent the current law on First Amendment rights” and “school districts have nothing to fear in permitting the free exercise of these rights.”
Concerning prayer at board meetings, graduations and other such events, the ADF says the ACLU “erroneously states that prayer and scriptural readings are not allowed “graduation ceremonies, athletic events, award ceremonies, and other school activities.”
The ADF says courts have held that school policies which equate all student religious speech with State speech go too far and actually violate an individual’s free speech rights.
“The Free Exercise Clause does not permit the State to whispers or banish it to broom closets,” the ADF says.
Oran Smith of the Palmetto family Council said the ACLU “is very clever at touting court cases that support their position.”
He said “they ignore the ones that do not fit. That’s their shtick.”

By Scott Harper
sharper@gtowntimes.com

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