Dear Dawg: We have a conflict coming up among our board members about prayer at our meetings. One member wants to pray, but only if the prayer is “nonsectarian and nonproselytizing.” I’m not sure what that means, and I sure don’t know how to deliver a prayer that meets those standards. Another member thinks we can pray as much as we want and in any way that we want. What do you think? HEAVEN HELP US.
DEAR HEAVEN: Well, the 5th Circuit has held that prayer at school board meetings is OK. The court concluded that a school board meeting is more like a legislative session than a football game, which is an interesting way to look at it. That analysis came from earlier SCOTUS decisions that concluded that prayer at a state legislative session is OK but prayer at high school football game is not. So the 5th Circuit decided that your school board members are more like legislators than football coaches and gave the green light to prayer. See American Humanist Association v. Birdville ISD, 851 F.3d 521 (5th Cir. 2017). In that decision the court specifically said that you don’t have to make the prayer “nonsectarian.”
You still ought to be careful, thoughtful and respectful about how you do this. There are limits to what a school board can do regarding prayer at the meetings and if a district were to push the envelope too far, courts would likely strike down certain practices.
If you want to know what “nonsectarian and nonproselytizing” would sound like, we can offer you this lame offering which was recited at a recent school graduation:
Please bow your heads. We just want to say that we’re real happy today. This is a great day. And if Anyone or Anything Out There had anything to do with us getting to this graduation day, why, we’re mighty grateful for whatever You did and however You did it, which we don’t know, and wouldn’t begin to try to persuade anyone else of, even if we did have a clue. So, like, have a nice day.
We don’t think that “prayer” reached the heavens. In fact, we doubt that it cleared the cloud cover.
DAWG BONE: PRAY FOR A GOOD OUTCOME FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION AT THE ELECTION NEXT WEEK.