10/13/2021 United States (International Christian Concern) – The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), a well-known atheist advocacy group, sent a letter to North Carolina’s Union County Board of Education over a Christian prayer given before a school board meeting.
In the letter, FFRF said it received a complaint from a citizen that “the [School] Board allows various Christian clergy members to deliver prayer before board meetings… These prayers appear to be invariably Christian in nature.”
FFRF then listed some of the “objectionable” segments of the prayers, including this: “Father, we ask now that You would be with us tonight just give us wisdom, give us clear heads, and give us Your grace and let Your spirit reign over this body and we just ask all this now in the name of Jesus. Amen.” and “Father, we come to You tonight in prayer in the name that is above every name and that’s the name of Jesus.”
FFRF concluded its letter with the claim that, “It is unconstitutional for the Board to institute prayers at its meetings. We request that the Board immediately refrain from scheduling prayers as part of future school board meetings to uphold the rights of conscience embodied in our First Amendment.”
Organizations like FFRF frequently use cease-and-desist letter to intimidate local government institutions into self-censuring any form of religious expression without ever having to go to court. Indeed, this letter cites various legal precedents supposedly supporting its position to bolster its request. However, the legal justifications provided by FFRF are not as iron-clad as FFRF makes them out to be.
FFRF cites a case from the Third District Court of Appeals that holds school board prayer is analogous to other forms of prayer not allowed in schools. But given that North Carolina is in the Fourth Federal District, that case is not binding on the school board. Numerous circuit court rulings have confirmed the fact that a ruling in one district is not binding on another district. In fact, the Seventh Circuit Court has said that a single district court ruling has “little precedential effect” even on district judges in the same district.
Then, FFRC attempts to dismiss City of Greece v. Galloway, a recent Supreme Court case which held that prayers given by local governments are constitutional. They do this by citing FFRF v. Chino Valley, which indeed held school board prayer to be unconstitutional. However, that case is from the Ninth Federal District Court of Appeals and thus is not binding on the school board. Even if it would have been, the lower ruling in the Ninth District does not negate the Supreme Court’s holding in City of Greece v. Galloway.
A spokeswoman for the school district released a statement, saying, “The Union County Board of Education has received the letter from the Freedom from Religion Foundation and is evaluating the request.”
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