Leaders of local Christian organizations said they feel Christianity is under “attack” from the national Freedom from Religion Foundation and in turn will hold a prayer before the Killeen Independent School District school board meeting this evening.
“At this point, there isn’t a question to whether a Jewish person can pray or any other person can pray,” said Claudette Morgan-Scott, pastor and founder of the Shiloh Worship Center in Killeen. “This issue is about whether a Christian person can pray.”
On Aug. 6, the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation notified school board President Terry Delano of a “constitutional violation” that took place at a May meeting, according to a letter from the foundation’s attorney, Sam Grover.
“One invocation, given by a board member on May 12,” the letter reads, “called upon the “Righteous Heavenly Father” to “guide us in our decisions ... we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior ... Amen.”
“This case, like most other cases, came to us from a concerned citizen in the community who reached out to us about feeling ostracized about the practice within the school board,” Grover said.
Federal courts and the Supreme Court, according to the attorney’s letter, have “continually and consistently struck down prayers offered at school-sponsored events.” The letter continues to say that “it is beyond the scope of a public school board” to conduct prayer as part of its meetings.
Joe Goodson, president of the Concerned Christian Citizens of Central Texas, does not agree and has called on the help of local Christian organizations to gather signatures for a petition in support of Christian prayer during school board meetings.
Morgan-Scott expects to have over 1,000 petition signatures by today.
“We have crafted a petition that urges the school board not to back down to this intimidation, but to continue to exercise their constitutional right to the freedom of religion,” Goodson said.
It is not a matter of intimidation, but legality, according to Grover, as he attests prayer by a public school district in any setting is unconstitutional.
“The courts have consistently held that a (public) school cannot endorse a religious message during any time,” Grover said. “The school board is representative of the school district — often students and parents participate in school board meetings and in that context, there cannot be a Christian prayer to open up school board meetings.”
Representatives of both religious groups said they feel the Christian religion, in particular, is under attack by the foundation.
“The reality is that there is a specific attack on Christianity; when a letter comes like that saying we don’t want prayer in a meeting, then it’s an attack on Christianity,” Morgan-Scott said while later noting she had not read the letter.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation is not an anti-Christian group, said Grover, but instead a group with the purpose to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.
“We get involved anytime the government is promoting a religious message regardless of what that religious message is,” Grover said Monday. “My question to this group would be: Would they feel the same if it was an Islamic prayer, or would their position change based on the religion being presented?”
For people who feel uncomfortable in the midst of Christian prayer, both Morgan-Scott and Goodson remind those individuals that they have a choice.
“They can pray. They’re not obligated to participate at all; it’s a matter of choice,” Morgan-Scott said.
Goodson echoed her sentiments. “They can do what I do regularly when I don’t like something that’s in the public — I just tune it out.”
“We want freedom; you can leave — you don’t have to be a part of it, but let us pray if we want to,” Goodson said.
Concerned Christian Citizens of Central Texas and other Christian organizations will gather for prayer at the flagpole in front of the Killeen ISD administration building on W.S. Young Drive at 5:30 p.m. prior to the school board meeting.
During the meeting, they plan to present the board with their petition in support of school board prayer.