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RE: [Freethought-Association-of-Northern-Mic­higan] Pellston Board of Education prayer issue

From: Christine M. T.
Sent on: Thursday, October 13, 2011 11:04 AM

Hi Travis,

 

It all started with an article in the Petoskey News-Review on June 30, 2011 which was written by Rachel Bougham. I’m including an electronic copy of the article below. We reported the issue to the Freedom from Religion Foundation and they have sent two letters to the school board and superintendent. I’ve attached copies of those letters to this email. If, after you’ve had a chance to digest all of this, you have any questions, don’t hesitate to write.

 

Best regards,

Kendal

 

 

 

It’s been a tough spring for Michigan’s public schools.
Slashes in state funding, drops in tax revenue and increased costs for benefits such as retirement packages and health insurance, have forced our area districts to make some tough choices.
And when the going gets tough, the school board turns to ... God?

Imagine my surprise when covering a local school board meeting earlier this month when a board member led the rest of the board, along with those in attendance, in prayer.
After standing for the Pledge of Allegiance, I must have been the only one in the room unaware of what was coming next.
As I turned to grab my seat, the rest of the room remained standing.
“We ask you God that you lead us in helping make the right decisions for this district here tonight.”
OK, that got my attention.
“They are praying IN A SCHOOL BOARD MEETING. Can they do this,” I immediately asked my editor in a text.
“Moment of silence, yes. Prayer? NO!” he responded.
All right, so they did have a big meeting that night and they may have felt the need for a little extra help from the man upstairs in making the right decisions. So I let it go, only to find myself reliving the same scenario in the same board room with the same prayer two weeks later.
Hold up here. I really do hope you find some guidance, but prayer in a public school led by a board member? I don’t want to hear it. If I want religion, I’ll attend church. Public schools and religion do not mix, and to me, it’s a black and white issue. But evidently, this particular case is a little gray.
According to an attorney with the Michigan Press Association Legal Hotline, praying during a legislative meeting is legal. Praying in public schools when lead by a school official is not. So when it comes to a school board member leading a prayer during a board meeting, the law is sketchy.
“As long as the school does not disparage or deny someone’s faith, it is generally OK. But it does raise a heightened level of concern because of the impressionable nature of children,” I was told.
For the record, there were students in attendance during the first meeting I attended. The second meeting consisted solely of adults.
The general rule is that organized prayer in the public setting, whether in the classroom or at a school-sponsored event, has been ruled unconstitutional. The only type of prayer that is constitutionally permissible is voluntary student prayer that does not interfere with the school’s educational mission.
The American Civil Liberties Union has even taken action against public school districts that have held prayer during board meetings.
The ACLU takes the stance that, “Any program of religious indoctrination — direct or indirect — in the public schools or by use of public resources is a violation of the constitutional principle of separation of church and state and must be opposed.”
I don’t live in this particular community and my son will not attend school there. You could argue that I really have no business telling this public school board how to run their meetings. You may also tell me that I could have left the room for the prayer, but when there’s no real warning it is about to happen, that makes scooting out the door a bit difficult.
The bottom line, I felt uncomfortable.
This column isn’t about my feelings on religion, but more to the point that I feel this particular scenario is functionally, tax-funded religion. The prayer was led by a school official and I was given no warning and at no point asked if I wanted to take part or leave the room.
The First Amendment protects religion from government. But that does not give religion a free pass to appear wherever it likes.
We have freedom of religion, but we also have freedom from religion.
What happens when a parent living in the district attends one of these meetings and unbeknownst to them, is led in a prayer? Even though it may be a gray area, can one of our public school districts, already operating on bare bones because of funding cuts, afford a lawsuit?

           

 


From: [address removed] [mailto:[address removed]] On Behalf Of Travis Libby
Sent: Thursday, October 13, 2011 10:34 AM
To: [address removed]
Subject: Re: [Freethought-Association-of-Northern-Michigan] Pellston Board of Education prayer issue

 

I'm not familiar with the Pellston issue.  What is going on?

On Oct 12,[masked]:57 AM, "Kendal J Taylor" <[address removed]> wrote:

FANM Members:

 

Below is part of an email I received last evening from Annie Laurie Gaylor, Co-President of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. She is responding to my inquiry regarding what's next in the Pellston prayer issue. After you read the email I'd ask that you consider if a unified visit to the next Pellston School Board meeting, Monday November 14th, is something that you would feel comfortable taking part in. If we as a group agree to do this and present a united front I will volunteer to be the one who actually speaks to the board and asks them to stop the practice.

 

I am very anxious to hear from each of you.

 

Kendal

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Kendal,

Kristen is only in barely 8 hours a week if that - she's a fall intern with limited hours. I've asked her to talk to me about this. We are atheists around here & we don't believe in miracles :) It's great to have a complainant who can monitor these violations. i have suggested a follow-up phone call, a news release & an action alert. We just got back from our national convention (you're chapter is in, by the way & everyone was very pleased) and can try to do some catch-up.  The 6th circuit is on our side & we will get them to stop, eventually. You should fill me in (since I'm after hours & kristen's here so briefly every week) about whether you and the chapter have taken any action. If not, that would really help. Go and speak at the school board meeting against it, etc. maybe you've done this - but if not, it would be helpful. We could let area members know if there was to be a contingent of you - i would suggest phoning me well in advance of a planned 'attack' like this so we have time to get the word out. Thanks and i know Kristen will be in touch. Our senior staff attorney who is due to give birth monday phoned after her doc's appt this aft.  to say they're inducing her tomorrow for health reasons. She'll be gone 2 months and was out a lot previously on bedrest. We think we're trundling along pretty well but it's been a difficult year! Annie Laurie



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