Atheist group succeeds in ending prayers at school board meeting

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Clark County School Superintendent Dr. Jesus Jara, addresses the Clark County School District Trustees and attendees during a meeting in 2019 (Benjamin Hager/ Las Vegas Review- Journal)

Another school board has lost the freedom to express the faith of the majority of its members – thanks to a group that makes “religious freedom” its battle cry.

The Clark County (Nevada) School Board will no longer start meetings with a prayer after getting a letter of complaint from the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation, a national nonprofit devoted to keeping Christians from expressing their faith when they are in government roles. The move was reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

On Dec. 20 the atheist group contacted the school board “to object to the unconstitutional prayers at Clark County School Board meetings,” including the invocation that opened the Dec. 12 meeting.

Why can nonbelievers simply not participate in the prayer?

Because “ … 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 display deference toward a religious sentiment in which they do not believe, but which their school board members clearly do,” the group’s letter said.

That is, the problem is in how meeting attendees might interpret the invitation to prayer.

A letter to the group from CCSD’s general counsel dated Jan. 10 indicated that the board would discontinue the practice, which often follows the Pledge of Allegiance at board meetings.

The board has not always included the prayer at its meetings. At the Nov. 14 meeting, for example, board President Lola Brooks called for 30 seconds of silence after the pledge instead, as the minister scheduled to speak was not present.

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