group prayer

A Connecticut school board has supposedly removed prayers before board meetings after a complaint from an atheist organization and a “concerned community member.” CT Insider reported that the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), an atheist activist group, contacted the Enfield School District to complain about the prayers allegedly routinely unfolding before meetings.

Enfield’s Board of Education is believed to have stopped the prayer practice earlier this year. In August, the FFRF released a statement claiming the organization was able to get prayer “removed” from the board meetings, calling the practice of board members praying to God at the gatherings offensive.” The statement opened, “The Enfield Public Schools system has removed the offensive practice of opening its board meetings with a prayer after the Freedom From Religion Foundation objected.”

The FFRF announcement then shared one of the prayers allegedly uttered by board member Jean Acree. It read, “Heavenly Father, we ask you to bless us with your presence at this meeting tonight. Bless all who are in attendance. Please, Lord, open the hearts and minds of this board as we listen to our presenters and our audience in attendance so that we will make sound decisions on the issues that are of great concern. I also pray for what is best for all of our Enfield children. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

An attorney for the FFRF who wrote the letter asking for prayers to be stopped claimed it’s “beyond the scope of a public school board” to include invocations in its meetings. Outside of that, the atheist activist group argues that including prayer puts non-believers in a potentially uncomfortable and challenging position. The statement continued, “It is coercive, embarrassing, and intimidating for nonreligious citizens to be required to make a public showing of their nonbelief (by not rising or praying) or else to display deference toward a religious sentiment in which they do not believe, but which their school board members clearly do.”

The FFRF reports that the district has now replaced the time when a prayer or moment of silence was held with simply a moment of silence. CT Insider reported that the board reportedly voted unanimously to cut the opening prayers and solidify a moment of silence, which left the FFRF contented and “pleased.” A 1997 article in the Hartford Courant noted the district voted 6-3 that year to introduce prayer or a moment of silence before meetings.

Then-board chairwoman Ann Maloney said, “We have written this in a way that should not be offensive to anyone except, perhaps, an agnostic. This is our heritage, our culture. Boy, we jump in to defend everyone else’s culture in the country, but everybody jumps on us when we try to express our own culture. This is very simple. We are not talking theology. We are talking respect for each other.” The practice had previously been dropped before resuming in 1997.

While the FFRF said in its letter, “calling upon students, parents, and other board meeting attendees to pray is unconstitutional,” the situation might be more complex than the complaint explained. Government meetings are typically started with prayer at the local and federal levels. It’s true student involvement and the individual leading prayers factor into legalities, though invocations are historically considered part of the fabric of American governance.

More from Beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad