For the 2nd month in a row, the ECSB did not have a formal invocation 'prayer' tonight. They didn't ask anyone to stand or pray!! Though they won't say as much, this may signal a softening in their stance on biased invocation prayers. If so, it's about time they came to their senses.
Last month was Mrs. Hightower's turn. She read a poem (while the audience stood). Tonight it was Mr Slayton's turn. Instead of someone from East Brent Baptist Church praying (as is his custom), he asked a student to give a speech about the Future Farmers. She was poised and it was totally appropriate. No one stood or prayed aloud.
The real test is January. That's when Mr Bergosh - the most vocal opponent of non-Biblical prayer-givers - gets his turn at choosing the invocation. He has promised to bring a Jewish person, essentially saying you want diversity... here's your diversity. Sorry, but inviting a Jew (like Jesus), while asking me "Are you Christian?" (then refusing my offer and several other minorities') is not diversity. Likewise, passing over requests from Humanist and atheists and seeking out someone to represent a religion you like is not Constitutional. You've publicly said you only allow prayer-givers that reflect your beliefs, which means you exclude those who don't. I hope you have the good sense to continue the inclusive example set by Mrs Hightower and Mr Slayton. I'm sure you can find an inclusive way to start the meeting that doesn't involve asking the audience to pray for you. Maybe feature a student essay or some poetry. It could be part of Civics or English class contest. If you can not, I'll be there with an 'offensive' alternative invocation to offer at the Public Forum.
BTW, I had a dynamite "Christmas-themed" invocation prepared for the Public Forum. Darn! I'll give a different one next month, if needed.
One question remains: Why call it an 'Invocation' on the agenda if gods' blessings are not invoked? Why not just have the Call to Order and start the meeting? There is no requirement to (misleadingly) list an 'Invocation', much less let individual SB members censor who gives it.
PS I offered to drop this whole issue and not gloat to the press if the ECSB would change their policy. They did not let me know. I cannot assume they changed their policy at all. I can only assume that two members made wise choices. I'll be contacting the press with an update this week.
FFRF, based in Madison, Wis., has more than 21,500 nonreligious members nationwide, including more than 3,360 in Caifornia.
School board meetings open with a prayer, and often include bible readings and proselytizing by board members. Board President James Na injects Christianity into many of his official statements, FFRF's legal complaint notes. At one typical meeting, Na "urged everyone who does not know Jesus Christ to go and find Him," after which another board member closed with a reading of Psalm 143.
Students often attend the meetings to receive awards, speak about issues affecting their schools, attend disciplinary hearings and do performances. Student attendance is mandatory in some instances, and a student representative is a member of the board.
Courts have consistently held that organized prayer in the public schools is unconstitutional, the complaint charges. Two federal appellate courts, the Third and Sixth Circuits, have specifically held school board prayer unconstitutional.
Joining the Freedom From Religion Foundation as plaintiffs are a district student, Doe 1, and parents Does 2 and 3, as well as a district employee, Doe 4. Additional students, families, and employees in the district who are interested in joining as anonymous plaintiffs should contact FFRF.
The plaintiffs "feel that the government is taking sides against them on religious questions," and view the prayers, bible readings, and proselytizing as state-endorsed religion. The board is excessively entangled with religion, alleges the complaint, noting there is no secular or educational purpose for prayers, bible readings, or proselytizing. FFRF contends this violates the Establishment Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and the California Constitution.
FFRF repeatedly attempted to resolve these constitutional violations without litigation. FFRF originally contacted the board on Sept. 14, 2013, asking it to stop scheduling prayers at its meetings. The board responded on Oct. 7, 2013, refusing the request.
FFRF is represented by Attorney David J.P. Kaloyanides, who won a lawsuit in February on behalf of the American Humanist Association, which stopped the city of Lake Elsinore, Calif., from building a war memorial depicting a soldier kneeling before a Christian cross. FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert and Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel are co-counsel on the case.
The complaint asks the court to declare the board's religious practices unconstitutional under both the federal and state constitutions and to permanently enjoin the board from any further school-sponsored religious exercises.
U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal, an Obama appointee, is handling the case (Case No. 5:14-cv-02336).