The high wall between Christian values and any kind of public education recently grew even higher in Florida, as a school board rejected prayer invocations at its meetings out of fear of atheists and Satanists turning meetings into a “complete circus show.”
Flaglerlive.com reports that four members of the Flagler County School Board this week opted against starting their meetings with a prayer or invocation, rebuffing School Board Chairman Janet McDonald’s efforts since August to invite clergy to pray and describe their “wellness” and mental health work on behalf of the district.
A pastor opened a board meeting in August at McDonald’s invitation, but board members, the superintendent and the board attorney were not expecting it. After the pastor offered a Christian prayer and pitched her church’s works a controversy ensued, dividing the community and the school board. Three discussions have been held since, with the latest, this week, essentially ending the matter but leaving the door open to members of the faith-based community to be heard regarding their works on the district’s behalf.
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School Board member Colleen Conklin opted against invocations after saying she was conflicted about it. She said she had no doubt that prayer at meetings was legal, but citing her own research, she said “almost every single one of them eventually spirals down into a complete circus show, literally google it and watch,” she said. “School board meeting prayers, all you have to do is watch videos, and it turns into satanic members hailing Satan to come down over this district.” She also rejected the occasional claim that prayer has been banished from schools. “Prayer is allowed in school. Students can pray. They’re more than allowed to pray,” Conklin said.
School Board member Maria Barbosa, who had appeared to lean toward McDonald’s preference, echoed Conklin’s concerns, and board member Andy Dance added another point against opening the door to prayers: “We had the state Board of Education here, and there wasn’t a prayer with them,” he said, citing the state board’s visit last week, as well as figures provided by School Board Attorney Kristy Gavin that showed just under half of Florida’s school districts having prayers or invocations at board meetings. “We’re in the midst of trying to hire a superintendent, and I want us to be a unified county. I want us to have a sole purpose. I just feel at this point it’s kind of tearing us apart a little bit, the discussion about it. It shouldn’t, but half the people are for it, half are against it, and I want us to be unified in our purpose . Right now it’s just selecting the next best superintendent for Flagler schools.”
Board members recognized McDonald’s good intentions. McDonald herself appeared almost surprised by the blowback, though she disagreed with Conklin, who said McDonald took “a lot of heat” over the issue.