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Georgia county replaces invocation with moment of silence after lawsuit threat

Georgia county replaces invocation with moment of silence after lawsuit threat

The Fayette County, Georgia, Board of Education has decided to make a change in their official meeting procedures after letters of complaint and a threat of a lawsuit were received. The invocations have been traditionally delivered by a local minister.

According to The Citizen, Americans United for Separation for Church and State responded to letters it had received regarding the invocation, stating that the prayers were in violation of the First Amendment's separation clause.

Americans United stated they had received a complaint,

"…regarding the Fayette County School (System) Board of Education’s practice of opening its meetings with prayer. We understand that students regularly attend board meetings. We write to inform you that the inclusion of an official prayer at school board meetings violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and to ask that the prayer be discontinued.”

Within the letter were citations of various legal decisions regarding the unconstitutionality of prayer at school board meetings, including,

“Any prayers, even non-sectarian ones in the broad Judeo-Christian tradition, send the message to adherents of minority faiths that the board does not represent their interests or welcome their participation in debates over matters of concern to the public. That matter is particularly damaging when students are in the audience, as they are here. Accordingly, because the board represents all students and their families, regardless of faith, we ask that you end the board’s practice of opening its meetings with prayer.”

According to the story, interim Superintendent Dan Colwell decided to comply with Georgia Open Records, and under the advice of school attorneys, released the letter and other pertinent information regarding the issue. The letter included communications from school system attorney, Phil Hartley, as well as another letter by attorney Denise Jackson, which stated,

“With other clients, we have suggested that the board consider opening its meetings in the same way that the school day is opened for all of its students, with a moment of silence.”

The decision to replace the prayer with a moment of silence without a legal fight may be due to the current financial state of the Fayette County Board of Education, which is strapped for cash and not in the position to fund a legal challenge.

Leonard Presberg, board member and previous BOE Chairman and a non-Christian, offered his opinion on the matter,

“We’re a public school system. What does that say to some of those in the room who might not be Christian? (Saying a prayer) can be interpreted as exclusionary even though it’s not intended to be."

Fayette County, GA is situated in the Atlanta Metro area. For more information, commentary and additional resources, please read the whole story at The Citizen.

About Al Stefanelli

Al is a retired author, writer and journalist. His books include "Free Thoughts - A Collection Of Essays By An American Atheist" and "A Voice Of Reason In An Unreasonable World - The Rise Of Atheism On Planet Earth." Al began writing in 1985, starting with the New York Times. In 1993 he joined a McClatchy newspaper, writing a weekly column for ten years. His writing continues to be widely distributed on the Internet and in print. He also produced and hosted a weekly syndicated radio broadcast from 1995 to 1998, and his work won a North Carolina Journalism award in 1998. Al is the former Georgia State Director for American Atheists, Inc., and served on the Board of Directors for "The Clergy Project." He is also a former Southern Baptist Pastor, having served two churches and as pulpit supply for three counties. Currently, he writes part time for The God Discussion, co-hosts the Internet radio programs, "The God Discussion Show" and "Reap Sow Radio." Al lives in the Atlanta suburb of Peachtree City, GA.
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