So, as I write this, I am about 15 minutes from speaking in front of the Franklin County, TN School Board on the topic of prayer. The story leading up to this is here.
Below is the text of my statement. I can only hope that it does some good.
Thank you to the School Board for giving me the time to speak. As a librarian, I value the open sharing of information, and as a parent the ability to share my thoughts with you is truly invaluable.
I do want to start with my closing statement, which is that I hope that the North Lake PTO, and any organization affiliated with public education, can see the issues that are involved in the insistence of an opening prayer, and choose to end the practice. There are two reasons that I believe this is the proper course of action, and in brief, they are:
First, that the insistence of having a prayer prior to a meeting of an organization that has such close ties to our public education system steps much too close to the legal line between church and state. There is a clear legal line that has been drawn repeatedly over the years through case law, as it relates to the protection of a central tenet of our Constitution, that the prejudicing of a single religion in affairs of the State is simply not allowed. While there has yet to be clear case law on the status of a PTO as it relates to the Freedom of Religion clause, anyone with familiarity with the law (and indeed the County’s own legal counsel) would advise that if there were a suit, it is likely that the PTO and the School Board associated with it, would lose.
We don’t have to like this fact, but not liking it doesn’t change the status of a fact…that’s what makes them facts.
Given that losing such a court case could potentially cost Franklin County hundreds of thousands of dollars that I, for one, would prefer be given to our amazing teachers, I would like to avoid the risk altogether. This is the first reason that I think that organizations that are affiliated with public schools shouldn’t endorse any particular religious view.
The second reason is that not only do I think it’s the practical thing to do, but it’s also the right thing. The priority of everyone associated with the educational system, whether formally or informally, should be to make the best use of the resources we have to ensure the excellence of the education of our children. Opening organizational meetings with a prayer is, by its nature, exclusionary to any Franklin County taxpayer of any differing faith. As we are a multi-denominational society, continuing on the existing path simply ensures a lack of multiple voices, as it indicates to those of differing faiths that their beliefs are not considered or respected. A multiplicity of voices is necessary in order to fully grasp an issue, to talk through and see all sides of a problem, and to ensure that the most effective and efficient solutions are pursued. As they say, none of us is as smart as all of us.
I have followed this discussion as it has evolved prior to today, and watched the brief film of the meeting from last Monday that appeared online, wherein several of the community members remarked that “Majority rules”. The majority of people in this room right now almost certainly see no problem with prayer before a meeting. But in this case, I say that it isn’t about what the majority is comfortable with, it’s about protecting the the voices and opinions of the minority. If you’ll allow me to quote Paul, from Romans 15:1 in the King James Version: “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” Or in more modern language, from the New Living Translation “We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves.”
In closing: I hope that the North Lake PTO, and any organization affiliated with public education, can see the issues that are involved in the insistence of an opening prayer, and choose to end the practice.
Thank you for listening, and I look forward to continuing this conversation, and hearing from Minister Tipps.