A North Carolina school board is under fire for opening its meetings with a prayer, something an atheist group calls “unconstitutional.”
The New Hanover County Board of Education in Wilmington, N.C., opened its Oct. 3 meeting with a prayer led by the Rev. Joshua Reilly, pastor of Long Leaf Baptist Church.
According to the Freedom from Religion Foundation, the prayer and a proposed policy permitting such prayers is impermissible under the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which prohibits the state from designating an official religion.
“It is beyond the scope of a public school board to schedule or conduct prayer as part of its meetings, even if the prayer is delivered by local religious leaders,” FFRF staff attorney Chris Line wrote to school board Chair Pete Wildeboer.
“Prayer at school board meetings is a distraction from matters the school board should be instead focusing on,” Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president, said in a statement. “And it imposes a sectarian religious agenda on all of those attending.”
A school board spokesman referred a request for comment from The Washington Times to Mr. Wildeboer, the board chair, who did not immediately respond.
Mr. Line, via email, said FFRF has “not yet received a response” from the New Hanover school board.
He said the 2014 Supreme Court decision supporting opening invocations at town board meetings, known as Town of Greece v. Galloway, did not apply because “legislative prayer” differs from prayers at a school board meeting.
Mr. Line said federal courts “have consistently found” the two types of prayer are evaluated differently, with the Third and Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeals stating such prayers could be viewed as coercing students attending such meetings to pray as the board does.