6:24 pm
Mon March 18, 2013

Debate Surrounding Stokes County School Board Prayer

One group wants to limit how Stokes County School Board members open their meetings.
One group wants to limit how Stokes County School Board members open their meetings.
Credit stevendepolo / flickr

Many are watching to see if the Stokes County School Board will eliminate Christian prayer from its meetings and events. Americans United for Separation of Church and State accuses the public school system of violating the constitutional rights of students by including prayers at school board meetings and graduation ceremonies. Last month, the group sent a letter to the school board on behalf of a Stokes County parent complaining about this practice.

Americans United Senior Litigator Gregory Lipper says when a government body aligns itself with one set of beliefs, it sends a message to people of other faith that they are not as valued. According to Lipper, this message could negatively impact students attending board meetings. “In the context of schools, you are dealing with young children who are more impressionable to peer pressure and adult pressure. It is parents’ responsibility and right to direct their children’s upbringing, and it is not something public officials should get involved in,” explains Lipper.

But the Stokes County School Board disagrees. It argues the prayers are voluntary and do not favor one religion above another. According to its attorney, Fredrick Johnson, the school board is a legislative body, so it can open meetings with a non-sectarian prayer. “Every day you go to the General Assembly of North Carolina and groups attend session of the United States Congress in Washington, D.C. and under the decision of the Supreme Court, those bodies open their meeting with prayer,” contends Johnson.

The Stokes County School Board will meet at 6 p.m. Monday, March 18 at Poplar Springs Elementary in anticipation of a large turnout of supporters on both sides of this debate.  

Americans United has also requested several documents related to the school district’s graduation ceremonies including policies, regulations and procedures for the selection of speakers and their remarks. They also want a copy of programs distributed by the school district at West Stokes High School graduations between 2009 and 2012. Johnson says he’s working with the board to provide these documents.