Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Cleveland County School Board Meeting Erupts Over Prayer

First Rowan. Then Lincoln and Stokes. Now Cleveland County is dealing with the contentious issue of invocations at government meetings. With a county school board election just a few weeks away, a group calling itself the "Cleveland County Christian Law Enforcement Association" has organized a few hundred concerned citizens, and some sympathetic school board candidates, to encourage the Cleveland County School Board to do what all the other public boards and commissions in Cleveland County apparently do - open their meetings with (Christian) prayer. And apparently you're either with them, or against them.
"Ordained ministers, deacons and lifelong church-goers alike on the school board have had their faith questioned via social media, phone calls and emails. Several on the board stated such during Monday night’s hot-button meeting, largely centered on the groundswell of citizen interest in prayer before school board meetings."
 - Shelby Star (10/13)
At the end of a long and contentious meeting on Monday (that started with the crowd saying the Lord's Prayer out loud during the moment of silence), the Board voted against starting invocations immediately and to instead keep their moment of silence in place while the superintendent and legal council explore options (to pray). They are expected to report back to the Board at their next (post-election) meeting in November, with a possible vote on an invocation policy in December. In addition to the potential costs associated with a lawsuit to defend any such policy, another important issue was surfaced by one of the Board members:
"I am concerned about a couple things that will go along with this proposal. One of those is as an evangelical Christian I do not like the thoughts of giving a platform and a podium for a non-Christian to speak to our children... [It] means we will have to open up the podium to people of all faiths and I don't want to do that."
 - Jerry Hoyle 
In an email to WBTV, the ACLU noted: "Our office has been contacted by concerned county residents who rightfully believe that opening school board meetings with prayers could make students or residents of different beliefs feel unwelcome or pressured into participating in a religious activity with which they don't agree. Courts have found such practices to be unconstitutional, especially in school board settings."

What can you do?

Contact the Cleveland County Board of Education via email at Please be polite, identify yourself as a secular humanist (if you're so inclined), and encourage the Board to keep their current practice (a moment of silence). Urge them to vote No on any proposed invocation policy. Here's my email to the BoE for your reference.
"Our constitution mentions religion just twice, and both times the word 'no' is attached."
 - Ellery Schempp

Updates: 10/20 

From the public comments at the Board's 10/26 meeting (video is here):
"Please allow me to explain what our ultimate goal is: We want God back in our schools, and we think it must start with the School Board." - Rodney Fitch of the Cleveland County Sheriff's Office and the Cleveland County Christian Law Enforcement Association
"You have to have a policy that treats all religions fairly, and that means equally. If one can pray, then all can pray. That’s the catch. Freedom of religion means all religions. The government isn’t allowed to play favorites." - Tony Brown of the Foothills Interfaith Assembly
  • The executive director of the Christian Action League believes the Board "shouldn’t shy away from starting their meetings with prayer just because someone of another religion other than the Christian faith might pray" as that would "threaten [his] own religious freedom" to a public "platform and a podium."

    "Besides most groups other than Christian never participate anyway" he said. "It’s a common misconception there is widespread religious pluralism in America. Studies clearly show this is not the case. The nation is predominantly Christian, nearly 90 percent, and, when Jews are included...the percentage reaches as high as 94 percent. So to prohibit prayer at the meeting because a Wiccan, or a Muslim might pray, would be like throwing the baby out with the bath water." Fact Check: False and False. Sorry Sparky...non-Christians are starting to show up and participate, and we haven't had a "90 percent" Christian majority in this nation since the 1980s or earlier.
  • Shelby Star: Three incumbents, one former member, one newcomer elected to school board.
    Note that Jerry Hoyle, the Board member concerned about giving "a platform and a podium for a non-Christian to speak to our children," was not re-elected.
  • "Citizens For Good Government" editorializes:
    "Perhaps the biggest losers in the School Board Election are the Christian folks who want School Board meetings to begin with a Christian Prayer. Cleveland County just elected five Board members with three incumbents who have already voted twice against Prayer. One who is weak on Prayer and another who never supported Prayer in over ten years previous service on the School Board, but says she does now. When the School Board lawyer tells them if they implement a Christian Prayer a lawsuit is likely, all five will probably cave and go for a moment of silence, despite all the hot air support for Prayer right before Election Day. Either that or a prayer that is prepared by the lawyer that the Lord will turn a deaf ear to."

    This post will be updated as the story develops...
11/24 - Board adopts inclusive invocation policy

Say what?

1 comment:

  1. Why do they (the CCCLEA) want to exclude other religions from these meetings? It seems to me that they themselves are the ones doing the persecuting here. Either allow all religions the platform or else none. It doesn't matter if they (Christians) are in the majority. The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion not freedom of only one religion.