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It's legal for Joshua superintendent to lead prayer, but is it wise?

UPDATE: Joshua school trustees may lead their pre-meeting prayer themselves or ask somebody besides the superintendent to lead it after current Superintendent Ray Dane retires in June, board President Ronnie Galbreath said Wednesday. The original column appears below.




Nobody should be surprised that Joshua's school trustees want to pray.

But they want their superintendent to lead prayer, and that's where they might be misleading taxpayers into trouble.

In America, government employees can't organize or lead prayers. But lawmakers themselves are always free to express their personal faith through an invocation.

It's a tradition as old as America itself, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1983 case allowing various prayers in the Nebraska Legislature.

So if trustees can freely choose anyone to lead prayer -- is it really smart to always choose the superintendent?

Or does that mean Joshua might illegally hire a superintendent based on religion?

More than 100 people came to a meeting Monday night that turned into a Johnson County mini-tent revival, all because the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation wallpapered Joshua with a letter demanding that the board end invocations.

Superintendent Ray Dane, who is retiring in June, led prayer as usual. Board President Ronnie Galbreath said trustees want successor Fran Marek to keep it that way.

"We're just going by what our lawyer has told us," Galbreath said.

The district's Fort Worth-based lawyer, Mike Leasor, has been a Mansfield school trustee.

He argued that Dane is not leading worship as superintendent, but as trustees' choice for their "legislative prayer."

"He is acting on their behalf," Leasor said Tuesday.

OK.

But the next time the superintendent's job opens up, how will trustees prove that they are hiring from all qualified applicants without regard to faith or denomination, not choosing a prayer leader?

Leasor did tell trustees that prayers must be "nonsectarian, nonproselytizing."

But that wasn't what some attendees Monday really wanted.

In a flaming red-and-black Western shirt, James Ludden of Cleburne told the Joshua Star that he was "on fire for the Lord" and told the Cleburne Times-Review that he came to oppose "these people trying to crush the Christian world."

Congressional candidate Wes Riddle of Belton, taking advantage of the spotlight, told trustees to "hold firm" and resist "the devil."

Joshua's best choice is neither Satan nor the superintendent.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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Twitter: @budkennedy

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