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Lawsuit threatened, BoE discards opening prayer

Those attending the January meeting of the Fayette County Board of Education might have noticed a change in the proceeding at the beginning of the meeting. The usual invocation presented by a local minister was replaced with a “moment of silence.”

That change will continue due to threatened litigation by a Washington, D.C. organization after a complaint over prayer at school board meetings was filed last year.

The school system in April 2012 received a letter from Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AUSCS) saying the organization 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.”

The letter cited a variety of legal cases while maintaining that prayer at school board meetings is unconstitutional.

“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,” the letter said. “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.”

Complying with a Ga. Open Records request, interim Superintendent Dan Colwell on Monday released the letter and additional communication by the school system’s attorney. In a May 18, 2012 letter from attorney Denise Jackson on behalf of school system attorney Phil Hartley, Jackson reviewed the case law cited in the AUSCS letter and noted that, “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.”

Hartley followed up with a letter to AUSCS, saying that he did not necessarily agree with the legal conclusion from cited in the April letter. Hartley also requested time to review the AUSCS position.

Though the item was not brought up in regular session due to its potential for litigation, one of the criteria for executive session meetings, it is widely known today that the school system is cash-poor and could likely not afford to mount a legal challenge even if one was desired.

As for the prayers that continued through the end of 2012, Chairman Marion Key on Monday said ministers had previously been scheduled to give invocations through the end of the year so the school board elected to have those scheduled appearances continue through December.

On the former practice of having a prayer at the beginning of the meeting, school board member and former Chairman Leonard Presberg, who said he is not Christian, offered a different perspective.

“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,” Presberg said.

And addressing some speculation in the community concerning Presberg and his previous loose affiliation with the Fayette Free Thought Society, Presberg said he did not have anything to do with the complaint made to AUSCS.

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Comments

Is that almost every religious faith is represented in this county!
We have every Christian denomination, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and others.
Forgive me for not mentioning all!

A minute of silent prayer respects everyone in the room, allowing them to pray in the manner they are accustom to.

My prayer happens to be slightly different and in the minority referenced here.

That's what makes us such a great country. I am American, we are all Americans!

These United States of America were founded on Judeo-Christian values. There is a history and culture in America that binds it to these values whether the atheists like it or not.

We aren't going into other countries and demanding that they change their values and traditions.

You are correct, we were founded on Judeo-Christian values. Values I don't believe make it a law.

It's not just the athiests that are demanding this.

People all over the world are dieing to come to the good ole USA because of the freedoms we permit.

One might have a problem with the public school should a teacher start each day with a prayer and in lieu of praising your god, the teacher praised her god out loud every day.

A moment of silence allows everyone to pray or do as they please. Besides, have you taken a close look lately to see what the children actually do during this time? Mostly fidget, look around, tease someone, ect...

No one is telling anyone what to believe. Our public schools are designed to educate, not promote one religion over another. If one wants a religious education, no one is stopping them from seeking this out.

I didn't say anything about belief. I mentioned values and tradition.

The establishment clause of the Constitution was in reference to state sponsored or "establishment" of church by the state. It had nothing to do with tradition or our values. The framers did this to prevent the state from establishing a church. The left has twisted it the intent of the Constitution as an excuse to take American Judeo-Christian traditions out of society simply because they don't like it.

Schools are not trying to establish a church and no one is telling them what to believe. Don't try to misconstrue my words again, sir.

[Quote]The left has twisted it the intent of the Constitution as an excuse to take American Judeo-Christian traditions out of society simply because they don't like it.[/quote]

Interesting. Please clarify. Who represents your definition of 'The Left'? What traditions are being taken out of society? Thanks.

Let's clarify

I am neither to the left or an atheist and to categorize those who support separation of church and state as atheists or to the left is your opinion and assumption which some might view as religious intolerance. I will assume you are not but then I do not want to put words in your mouth.

My response was not directed to you and I really don't care whether you're right, left, up, down, straight or queer.

You still are drawing an assumption that those who promote separation of church and state are twisting it because they are to the left or atheist which is totally wrong! As per the example I gave you.

O.k. Sussberg. I'll bite.
How many that are in favor of the "separation of church and state", which is something that is not written in the constitution, are to the left, and how many are to the right?

So, you're implying that any thought or idea not written into the constitution might be to the left?
Shame on Mr. Jefferson! Are true leftist.

That's funny, since Declaration of Independence followed by The Constitution where written by men "to the left" of the popular thought and establishment of the day, the British monarchy!! It was rather radical and revoluntionary don't you think?

S. Lindsey's picture

Really? Where do you get that...

"Whoever claims the right to redistribute the wealth produced by others is claiming the right to treat human beings as chattel."

-Ayn Rand

A revolution led by our framers and founders against a ruler who believed he was divinely appointed to rule his colonies as he saw fit.

An idea for freedom, contrary to the popular belief that they were "subjects of this divinely appointed king".
Quite radical and revolutionary at the time!

S. Lindsey's picture

I just wondered why you said it was to the LEFT of popular belief.

Unless you are joining the Neocons Fighting against the established Government is usually the purview of the Right...or at least that is what we are blamed with... i.e.. Teaparty.

"Whoever claims the right to redistribute the wealth produced by others is claiming the right to treat human beings as chattel."

-Ayn Rand

I never implied any such thing. Did you just pull that out of your arse?
I implied that the majority of Atheists and those that call for the unconstitutional "separation of church and state" are leftists.

Feel free to prove my implication as incorrect.

There are many, many religious citizens in this country who support the separation of organized 'church' and the state. Our government does not dictate what religion the citizens of this country must follow. An atheist has no more right to dictate than does a Catholic, Methodist, Pentacostal, Islamist, Buddhist or Jewish citizen. Many public schools for years have handled this 'freedom of religion' part of our 'rights' through allowing silent prayer - or inviting clergy of all faiths to participate in government activities. Seven-day Adventist students are allowed not to participate in activities that are contrary to their religious beliefs. I am not an atheist. I pray whenever and wherever I please. No government or organization can interfer with this American 'right' that I treasure. I feel if our traditions and values are disappearing - it is the fault of individual Americans. Yes, degradation of family values is portrayed by the media - but often the media is portraying what is happening in our communities. This degradation of 'traditional values' has little to do with homosexuality or heterosexuality. As is coming to the forefront, many wonderful traditional families have a 'homosexual' member in their family . To citizens who believe that homosexulaity is against their particular 'religion' - that is their right. We do not base citizenship rights on the basis of our 'religious' belief. That is one aspect of separation of church and state. Our tradition of treating one another as we would want to be treated; respecting one another; etc., etc., etc. is still the American way. IMO

G35 Dude's picture

The term "Separation of Church and State" is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. The Constitution references religion in the establishment clause:

[quote]Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion [/quote]

And the free exercise clause:

[quote] Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof [/quote]

You see there is nothing in the Constitution that prohibits places of Government from displaying religious items or partaking in prayer etc. In fact the Supreme Court says:

[Quote]The view is that the establishment clause was intended to protect local establishments of religion from federal interference. Rehnquist made numerous citations of cases that rebutted the idea of a total wall of separation between Church and State. A result of such reasoning was Supreme Court support for government payments to faith-based community projects. Justice Scalia has criticized the metaphor as a bulldozer removing religion from American public life.[/quote]

So where did the term come from?

[quote]The phrase "separation of church and state" is derived from a letter written by President Thomas Jefferson in 1802 to Baptists from Danbury, Connecticut, and published in a Massachusetts newspaper soon thereafter.[/quote]

You may believe that the Government should stay completely non religious and if you do that is your right. But people need to stop misusing the Constitution as an excuse for their version of Separation of Church and State.

You can't use logic with an illogical person.

OK, then pls tell me why the BOE shouldn't tell this activist gp in DC to buzz off--or did they get advice from our county attorney that said "you can't do that"--and you best knock off that prayer stuff!" or what?? Or did they just fold at first threat?

G35 Dude's picture

[quote]OK, then pls tell me why the BOE shouldn't tell this activist gp in DC to buzz off--or did they get advice from our county attorney that said "you can't do that"--and you best knock off that prayer stuff!" or what?? Or did they just fold at first threat?[/quote]

I have no way of knowing who told who what they can or can't do. All I'm saying is that the Constitution does not prohibit prayer as written. If you don't believe me just read the Constitution for yourself.

You can't use logic with an illogical person.

mudcat's picture

The new Constitution was quietly rewritten over the past 40 years while the 60's war protestors came of age and started gaining influence over the rest of us. Some even became lawyers.

Dude, the new rules are very simple - cut and run every single time someone decides that their class or group is large enough to be a victim of some sort and their agenda is sanctioned by the Democrat Party. Seem outrageous? Well explain, abortion, gays, atheists, unions, black, females, Lisa whatzername at the city, people on death row, people who don't have health insurance, drunken celebrities, prisioners at Guantanamo that need prayer rugs, Muslims who feel uncomfortable that there are actually other religions tolerated in this (I mean our) country, the Occupy crowd, single mothers, single mothers with multiple children, single mothers with multiple children who earn more from the government than many soldiers do, on and on and on.

Next thing coming will be white middle-aged conservative people who make responsible decisions in raising their children - why? Because they will most certainly be in the minority very soon.

Oh I believe what you wrote--and I also believe history shows Federal Courts have usually ruled that nonsectarian prayer before local govt meetings is NOT unconstitutional. Those who make demands on local govts are using their OWN ideas & version of a definition for separation of church & state--no matter what they call themselves or how long they have been around or who their leaders are!

Does state that the BOE attorney after reviewing the letter feels that the moment of silence is appropriate and after 8 months they have not found any legal precedent to change their position.

But you dismiss the report that Attorney Hartley followed up with a letter saying he did not necessarily agree with the cited case law. Perhaps he checked and found that Federal Courts have historically ruled that nonsectarian prayer before local govt meetings was NOT unconstititional! All rather murky, don't you think?

So he didn't agree. It doesn't appear he was prepared to offer any logical support to back his disagreement. Sometimes one realizes they can't win so they are smart not to say anything.

Bottom line is I think we need to concentrate on the business of educating our children and not spend a lot of time on prayer at these meetings.

I pray every day. Don't feel the need to make it a public display or force my beliefs on anyone other than my kids. Dont want anyone forcing their beliefs on me either .

I haven't read one post here confusing the Constitution and Jefferson's doctrine on Separation of Church and State.

And, I'm surprised to see someone refer to Americans United For Separation of Church & State an "activist" group.
It's an organization led by clergy that is 64 years old.

Finally, as to Fayette Board of Ed, Commissioners, etc prayer is exclusive not inclusive, leaving out a range of faiths that people practice in Fayette!

If we want public prayer, then select prayers and clergy from all faiths. What is so hard in understanding that concept.
Barlow gets it!

I find it hard to believe that that you would promote a man such as Barlow who stood before a school board meeting and bombarded Mr. Presberg regarding his religious affiliation as that had anything to do with his qualifications to become a member of the board.

Barlow has done nothing to promote diversity or tolerance. Maybe you should ask members of the local synagogue or mosque, which I have, regarding their take on his tolerance.

Frankly I am suspect of anyone who wears their religion on their sleeve. Any religion including mine!
They are usually the first to cut everyone else off in the parking lot after religious services and be dishonest in business and/or political dealings.
I was further horrified by how Mr. Presberg was treated, especially knowing that those who practice minority religions have been persecuted for decades and some for centuries. Many people do not wish to tell the public how they worship or believe its anyone's business.
Being religious, I respect people's right to worship, even in public as long as it is inclusive. If you re-read Mr. Presburg's comments in this article he is expressing the same point.
Mr. Barlow appears to be open minded and willing to invite clergy of all faiths to come and offer the invocation at Commssion meetings which shows an understanding of religious tolerance and inclusiveness which we need.
I respect that!

I am sure all clergy are racing to be vetted by Mr. Barlow, especially any minority.

As a Jewish man with a family who has dealt with discrimination and hatred, I don't see how you can trust someone who already made a public spectacle of himself and his religious jihad by grilling Mr. Presburg about his religious or lack of beliefs. You are a more forgiving/understanding man than me.

I don't think the leopard can change his spots.

S. Lindsey's picture

Rather it is actually in it or not it's the intent and need of the moment that counts...?

Of course SCS is not in the Constitution and was NEVER intended as meaning Government my not have any Religious practices at all.. A Simple prayer harms no one.

Jefferson's letter to Baptist laymen simply meant that Government would not sponsor a Religion theirs nor anyone else's.

However, the letter is neither relevant nor binding on the Constitution but the FFR crowd will forever use this as a bludgeon to scare the Worker Bees into submission...

This is changing, many Jurisdictions are fighting the groups welcoming the fight.

"Whoever claims the right to redistribute the wealth produced by others is claiming the right to treat human beings as chattel."

-Ayn Rand

Thank heavens for adhering to The Constitution. The 'popular thought' segregated me until the '60s; intimidated me while seeking 'the right' to vote; and for too long denied me equal opportunity in this, my homeland. I know, I know - the 'race card' again - but ignoring the truth of the history of this country may cause people to forget that people throughout the world believe that this country offers equal opportunity to all. We're getting there! My own personal belief is that God is all - in all. No one can interfer with that personal belief - and our Constitution allows us our own individual expression of our beliefs/non-beliefs. The word God is in our pledge, and for those who are religious - the concept of God is in our hearts. In the United States, we are free to practice that belief in our own individual way - with no direction from the government. All of our traditions are not based on religion. Our values are pretty much expressed in our 'laws'.

live by example. not only our religious values are being rewritten our entire society and foundation is in a mire.

our beliefs and traditions? Are we teaching our children by demonstration? We are 'society'. What has changed? Who has changed?

Personally, I think that the degredation of the family unit is mostly to blame. The definition of what a family has traditionally been has been twisted into something unrecognizable. The of wedlock birthrate is a huge contributor; Without a father in many households, the mother is left trying to raise and discipline children on their own. Without a father teaching young men the difference between right and wrong, many children join gangs so that they have a sense of belonging to a family unit. Then there is the degredation of society itself with its glorification of violence and sex; 'music' that glorifies the gang culture and criminal lifesyle doesn't help matters.

So very true. Each individual must make sure that they are doing all they can to demonstrate 'goodness' in the home and in society. I agree with you - too much glorification of the wrong in society.

Family life has changed from the 1950's and not in a good way.

Now, I am going to sound sexist, but since women's liberation in the 60's the country has seen more woman in the workforce. Women now, want to be highly paid career people during the day and part time mommy's at night after a hard day at work and a hard day for the kids seeking attention from day care workers along with 20 other kids.

The first five years of a childs life is very important in terms of establishing relationships, learning skills, and RELIGION. As a parent, that responsibility is shared between the husband and wife.

Many woman today are selfish. They don't think that a child needs two parents. So they have babies out of wedlock and are praised. I have gone to church and been hit up for donations to help the single working mother to be. In church the 20 something mother to be is doted on and praised for this "accomplishment".

Now excuse me for being cold hearted or true to the judeo Christian values, but when the church dotes over an unwed mother, they are showing my young impressionable children that the church does not really represent the sanctity of my marriage when they reward an unwed mother with gifts and extra attention. Are the churches and parishioners really upholding judeo Christian values? Now some will call it compassion, but if a woman chooses to have sex outside of wedlock, the churches shouldn't be holding baby showers in the assembly hall. If the churches fail to withhold these values under their own roofs, how can we push prayer onto our public schools who have people of all faiths and non believers.

I haven't read of that many rapes in FC. So tell me, where are these women learning or following the judeo Christian values some are fighting on the blogs to uphold?

In yesterdays AJC, there was an article on page two of the front page section of the paper that a Lutheran preacher was reprimanded for taking part in a prayer vigil for the Newton, Ct children killed. This preacher was admonished because he took part along with other non Lutheran clergy. So, if the BOE allows prayer by a non Lutheran, all Lutheran believers are supposed to leave the meeting while the prayer takes place?

The world has changed. It is up to the parents to instill their moral beliefs into their children.

Robert W. Morgan's picture

If there was ever a group that needs divine guidance, it would be the school board — admittedly the old one more so than the current one. I am so sick of a noisy 2% of the population enforcing their will on the rest of us. Why can't we just take the position that if these non-believers don't want to pray or even listen - don't. We can even warn them a prayer is coming up so they can attract attention to their pitiful little lives by leaving the room. I can't see Thomas Jefferson handlng these few whiners in this fashion.

Live free or die!

Doesn't it kinda tick you off that this person who lodged the complaint didn't have the guts to come to a BOE meeting and stand up and present the complaint instead of doing a 'skip echelon' action to some activist group in DC?

This was filed a long time ago and the BOE received the letter in April. The BOE chose not to address until all of the guests invited to perform the duties were complete before changing the format.

OK, so what's that got to do with the 'complainant' standing up in front of the BOE & making the complaint and keeping a distant activist group out of it?

The complaintaint knew when the board was finally going to address it. We don't know what has been going on behind the scences.

..so you must know the complainant? You knew the complaint was filed a long time ago, you knew the board received the letter in April and you know that the complainant knew when the board was finally going to address it. I am guessing that you are not going to name the complainant?

I suppose it doesn't really matter, but I have to agree with AHG...no guts. If it is worth fighting for then why be ashamed to stand up for what you believe? I've taken a few stands in my life and I didn't take them anonymously. I guess we were all raised differently.

I didn't know anything about it. Just read the article, unlike you.

So you were just regurgitating the article. That's cool. No, I did not read the article (not enough time) ...just skimmed the comments.

Robert W. Morgan's picture

Rather they didn't exist at all, but since there is about 10 of them in the state - let them act out and stand out as the cowards that they are. We need to take these people down instead of cowtowing to them. Atheists are 2%'ers and a burr under my saddle. Pray for them.

Live free or die!

I have no problem with a moment of silence in lieu of a prayer that may or may not make reference to a specific god. This is fair for everyone.

I don't send my kids to public school for a religious education. That is taken care of in the home and our place of worship. I want my kids to meet many different kids with various backgrounds (like the real world) and learn how to deal with everyone.

I do have a problem with the County Commission meetings with the new regime. In the past, we had one commissioner do the innvocation. Mr. Barlow is now bringing in various preachers to offer the innvocation and then had the audacity to state that he is dedicated to inclusivity, but first, you have to volunteer and have him visit so he can vet you. Who voted this man to be the religion police for the entire county. What special talents does he have to act as gatekeeper?

See the latest meeting minutes below:

Commissioner Barlow: Commissioner Barlow reminded the citizens that the current Board is dedicated to inclusivity, and it is interested in the citizens involvement and input. He also said he wanted to reach out tothe “community of faith” saying the County has been fortunate to have folks from various churches come to the meetings. He reiterated that the Board is looking for volunteers from the churches to offer the
Invocation, and he asked that those volunteers contact him so he could visit with them.

RKS's picture

[quote=Husband and Father of 2]I have no problem with a moment of silence in lieu of a prayer that may or may not make reference to a specific god. This is fair for everyone.

I don't send my kids to public school for a religious education. That is taken care of in the home and our place of worship. I want my kids to meet many different kids with various backgrounds (like the real world) and learn how to deal with everyone.

I do have a problem with the County Commission meetings with the new regime. In the past, we had one commissioner do the innvocation. Mr. Barlow is now bringing in various preachers to offer the innvocation and then had the audacity to state that he is dedicated to inclusivity, but first, you have to volunteer and have him visit so he can vet you. Who voted this man to be the religion police for the entire county. What special talents does he have to act as gatekeeper?

See the latest meeting minutes below:

Commissioner Barlow: Commissioner Barlow reminded the citizens that the current Board is dedicated to inclusivity, and it is interested in the citizens involvement and input. He also said he wanted to reach out tothe “community of faith” saying the County has been fortunate to have folks from various churches come to the meetings. He reiterated that the Board is looking for volunteers from the churches to offer the
Invocation, and he asked that those volunteers contact him so he could visit with them.[/quote]

I guess Mr. Barlow is the one to decide which religions can say their pray? Gotta love that kind of freedom. This is why it's easier to skip the prayer and get some work done. I don't want my tax money spent on teaching people anything about religion, that's the job of their church of choice. I want my tax dollars spent educating my kids and running the government, not legislation religion.

Mr. Barlow clearly has chosen not to listen to advise that he is the county commissioner and not the county preacher. Couldn't believe the audacity of him requiring that he meet with anyone beforehand. Why would he need to do that? Who appointed him the gatekeeper?

For te past few years he campaigned for transparency. Now he doesnt feel that it's a problem to vote for a bandaid fix on a silly ethics charge even when the item was a late addition to the agenda. If this happened prior to his election we would have been hearing him spout his self righteous BS. The item was not that important to pass immediately.

Mr. Morgan pointed out how easily this new position can get out of hand and end up with some serious problems.

Barlow must go!

Didn't you understand that was a Special Meeting called specifically to address the Ethics Ordinance? The agenda was posted on the County Website prior to the meeting and agenda actions (mintess) a few days after the meeting. I commend it to your reading!

The meeting was not even necessary. Even the bedroom attorney stated that the fix was a Band-Aid

You may say the meeting was'nt necessary but that's not your call--that's the call of the Board--and note the vote to eliminate what they did was unanimous, absent the Chairman,who had properly recused hmself and left the building.

But chicken Little called an emergency meeting without having all of the information from the interim county attorney and voted for a Band-Aid fix. All because Mr. Chairman wants to go to war, possibly at the taxpayers expense.

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