NASHUA — Despite several requests to discontinue the practice, a prayer will continue to be read publicly at the start of the city’s Board of Education meetings.
“The board has gotten a third letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation regarding our prayer at the opening of meetings. They are asking us again to discontinue doing this,” said Heather Raymond, president of the school board.
The nonprofit group, which is based in Wisconsin, has been sending the board president written requests about once every six months for the past two years.
“We write today to inform the board that recent federal case law has reaffirmed FFRF’s position that prayer at school board meetings represents an unconstitutional endorsement of religion under the Establishment Clause (of the First Amendment),” wrote Dan Barker and Annier Laurie Gaylor, co-presidents of the FFRF.
The organization says in the letter that the prayer read aloud at the start of all Nashua Board of Education meetings is a “serious constitutional violation,” maintaining federal courts throughout the country have ruled that hosting prayer at school board meetings violates the Establishment Clause.
According to its website, one of the foundation’s primary goals is to promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church.
“In my opinion, I don’t think we ought to be governed by some out-of-state organization that wants to control what we do,” said Dotty Oden, board member. “The aldermen start their meetings with a prayer — our Congress, our Senate, they even have a clergy person there.”
This week, the school board voted 7-0, with one person abstaining, to continue with the prayer reading at the start of each full board meeting, although school officials stressed that the prayer is completely voluntary.
Raymond Guarino, a board member assigned to read the prayer at each meeting, said it should be clear to the public that the prayer participation is voluntary.
“I don’t want people to get the idea that they have to participate. It is a voluntary thing,” he said, emphasizing the importance of religious freedom and personal preferences.
The school board’s prayer starts off, “Oh mighty God, we have the high honor and the serious duty of managing our educational institutions of our city,” and goes on to ask for the spirit of unity and understanding as the board faces problems with an objective mind so that its decisions are for the betterment and happiness of all citizens. The prayer is then followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.
Raymond said she has no strong feelings on the matter and abstained from voting.