Sunday, February 6, 2011

Polk County Florida School Board and Prayer

School board adds prayer disclaimer

The Polk County Florida School Board was threatened with a lawsuit from the Freedom From Religion Foundation because the board had been opening its meeting with prayers. So the board decided the best thing to do was to move the invocation to precede the meeting's official start, and give the following disclaimer:

Voluntary invocation may be offered before the opening of the School Board meeting by a private citizen. The views or beliefs expressed in the invocation have not been reviewed nor approved by the School Board, and the Board is not allowed, by law, to endorse the religious beliefs or views of this, or any other speaker.

A few things here. First, I think the board did the right thing when they decided to avoid litigation. Courts are costly. And there is a very good chance the school board will lose. Paying money over an opportunity to pray in public - at an official government meeting - is just silly. School boards are about education, not displays of personal piety.

Second, I don't understand why the board would have prayer at an official meeting anyway. What purpose does it serve? Really? The only purpose it does have is to show the majority religion that their elected people are following the religion of the most number of voters. In other words, it is vote pandering, plain and simple.

Thirdly, why can't the school board members pray privately before they come to the meeting? Why must they make a public display of it? Oh, wait. I already discussed that above. Vote pandering. Now I remember why they would want to pray in public instead of in private.

Fourth, I do find some serious problems - theologically - with the whole idea of praying for the purpose of being seen. Jesus was quite harsh with the Pharisees who did that, saying they only prayed in public to be seen in public. Wait. I did it again. We already discussed that above to Vote pandering. I've got to remember that we've already talked about that.

Fifth, the Constitution is very clear that government shouldn't even give a hint of a Most Favored Faith, not anything that even respects an establishment of religion. One would think a school board would want to follow what we teach the students about one of our core values. So why would a school board violate the Constitution unless it is to ... wait. There it is again. Vote pandering. Guess those votes are more important than following our Constitution. Wonder if there are other parts the school board thinks can be ignored? Maybe the part about women getting the right to vote - will the school board just ignore that and start teaching the kids that women should be barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen?

Sixth, is it a good idea to do prayers at a school board meeting, knowing that one day another religion may become the majority religion in the area? How would the current people of the community feel that in a few years a large Muslim population came to the county, and then there are prayers to Allah before each meeting? If we allow one religious prayer ...

Lastly, I will say the board came to compromise that at least works. It is silly, but it does work. Since it is before the official meeting (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) the prayer is not official and this avoids the Constitutional question. The disclaimer is a nice touch, but it is all for show to keep the legal eagles happy: everyone knows it is still an unofficial official prayer.

Which is exactly why the school board did it this way. By moving the prayer to the unofficial slot before the actual meeting, the prayer still gets prayed; the religious majority gets to think the elected leaders are keeping the majority's version of God in the schools; and the elected leaders get to unofficially tell the constituents to vote for them again because they kept prayer at the meeting and those Godless heathens away from the official business.

Wait. That's just more vote pandering.

Does anyone see a pattern here?

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