Nonprofit group urges North Texas school district to stop praying at meetings

A nonprofit organization is urging the Weatherford school district to stop praying at its board meetings.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation said the school board opens each meeting with a prayer that usually contains specifically Christian themes, such as mentioning Jesus Christ and closing with “amen.”

Weatherford ISD did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation has a history of calling for schools and cities to remove Christian-based decorations and cease official prayer at their events.

A “concerned school district member” told the organization about the board opening each meeting with a prayer, according to a press release from the group.

“FFRF understands that students are regularly in attendance at these board meetings to receive recognition for academic achievements and that nonreligious students and community members feel compelled to participate in these prayers to avoid ostracism from the board and community,” the statement said.

Sam Grover, the organization’s associate counsel, told the board in a letter that the practice has violated the rights of Weatherford residents whose religious views do not align with the Christian prayers.

Karen Smith, a Weatherford resident, said people who are not Christian are uncomfortable with the prayer, but may not want to speak up because they are a minority.

“I think it excludes the people that are of a different faith,” she said. “I think we have separation of church and state for a reason, and just because we live in a small town doesn’t mean we can break the law.”

Smith said she filmed the prayer on Facebook Live and said people commented that they were upset about the prayer.

“People were just dumbfounded that they were doing that,” she said. “Even Christians that really believe in the separation of church and state. There is a reason that is there.”

The Weatherford District Board manual includes a rule that the district shall not adopt a policy that creates the perception of encouraging the delivery of prayer at a series of important school events.

Weatherford School District faced criticism in January for its response to a noose that was hung in the high school. Some parents felt the district tried to cover up the incident and did not take aggressive action.

Smith said the Christian prayer at the school board further shows the district needs more education on diversity.

“It boils down to exclusion. We’re excluding some students and families that pay taxes, play football and are part of the Roo family,” she said.

Most recently, the Freedom From Religion Foundation initially won a case against the IRS tax code, arguing that the long-standing exemption for religious housing violates the First Amendment. However, a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court decision on March 15, according to the Religion News Service.

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Kaley Johnson is a breaking news and enterprise reporter. She majored in investigative reporting at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has a passion for bringing readers in-depth, complex stories that will impact their lives. Send your tips via email or Twitter.