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September 11. 2013 11:47PM

Praying mom back at Concord High School

CONCORD — A mother who has returned to praying outside Concord High School is doing so in silence. The fervor surrounding the contentious issue, however, is unlikely to remain quiet.

Liza Urena returned to the Concord campus last week and resumed her daily ritual of praying for the safety of the school and its students, which includes two of her children. She had been praying out loud since February, but was told in July she could not longer pray on campus after the district received a complaint.

Although there has been no official change in policy, Urena has been allowed to conduct her prayers silently outside the school every morning after she signs in as a visitor.

"As long as she's doing that and not being demonstrative in what's she's doing, that's working so far. But this is a day-to-day kind of process," school board president Kassandra Ardinger said Wednesday.

Superintendent Christine Rath said administrators will continue to evaluate Urena's actions daily and that no decision has been made on whether she will be allowed to continue to pray on school grounds.

Any decision is likely to lead to another round of arguments between Urena's supporters and opponents who feel public school campuses should remain free of religious doctrine.

"It remains to be seen, frankly," said Gilles Bissonnette, legal director for the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union. "Obviously, we're carefully monitoring this because it potentially raises some civil liberties issues."

While the NHCLU is not directly involved, plenty of others are on both sides.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed the complaint with the district over the summer. Staff attorney Rebecca Markert said the Madison, Wis.-based organization just learned of Urena's return on Tuesday and would take some time to evaluate the developments, but expected the FFRF would be contacting the school district again.

"We're concerned that this is not really a change at all," Markert said. "She is still being allowed access to school property for religious conduct."

On the other side, the Alliance Defending Freedom will continue to stand by Urena, who has been represented by the Scottsdale, Ariz., group since it learned of Urena's ban.

"This is definitely progress and is really what we've sought all along — to allow Liza to continue to pray for the students and the school," said Matt Sharp, legal counsel for the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based alliance. "The fact that she's able to be there and pray is the most important thing. We really applaud the district for this step."

Sharp cited court cases he said supported Urena's right to be able to pray on campus, which she started doing after unspent bullets were found in February.

Sharp said whether it's out loud or silent, Urena feels she is getting her message out without disrupting anything or attempting to influence students in their own religious beliefs.
"All she wanted to do was to be able to continue to do that," Sharp said. "If somebody doesn't like Liza praying, they can just keep walking right into the school."

dalden@unionleader.com


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