REDDING, Calif. (CITC) — A California public school district is facing calls to stop reciting a Christian prayer before each of its board meetings.
The Gateway Unified School District (GUSD) Board of Trustees voted to open each of its meetings with prayer last month. The motion, which passed in a vote of 3-2, was raised by trustee Cherrill Clifford and immediately met with opposition from parents.
This is a public meeting," one parent called out. "Separation of church and state."
Trustee Lindsi Haynes then elected to lead the prayer, and she can be heard announcing that the meeting time will be "committed" to "God."
We all here, Lord, I believe want what's best for the kids. And so, God, I just pray that you would help us to move forward from this moment, God. That that would be at the forefront of all of our minds," Haynes said. "The board, the superintendent, the staff, the parents, the grandparents, the community. That that would be our goal. In Jesus's name, amen."
While several parents appear shocked at the recitation, others nodded along and joined the board in saying "amen."
One nonprofit is now demanding the practice immediately cease in an effort to "protect the constitutional rights of students and parents."
The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), a national advocacy group for atheists, agnostics and non-theists, works to protect the Establishment Clause. Despite local law allowing prayer at other council meetings, FFRF argues that GUSD is subjecting itself to both "unnecessary liability" and "potential financial strain" by adopting the practice in an educational setting.
It is coercive, insensitive, and intimidating to force nonreligious citizens to choose between making a public showing of their nonbelief by refusing to participate in the prayer or else display deference toward a religious sentiment in which they do not believe, but which their school board members clearly do," FFRF said in an open letter to GUSD trustees."
In the letter, FFRF cited several court cases striking down prayer at school-sponsored affairs in California, including one recently brought against the Chino Valley Unified School District (CVUSD). CVUSD, which was eventually ordered to stop reciting prayers at its own school board meetings, was forced to pay more than $200,000 in legal fees.
Board members are free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their own way," FFRF said. "However, the Board ought not to lend its power and prestige to religion or coerce attendees into participating in religious exercise."
FFRF claims that GUSD is directly violating the constitutional rights of any children in attendance at board meetings, as well as the "nearly one in three Americans who now identify as religiously unaffiliated." The group is requesting that GUSD respond in writing with its plan to "resolve" the matter.
The National Desk (TND) reached out to GUSD for comment, however, a district spokesperson said it will not be discussing the matter.