A South Carolina school board has decided to drop its exclusionary prayer policy – thanks to Americans United.

The Berkeley County School Board had a longstanding practice of opening all of its meetings with the Lord’s Prayer, which is, of course, a Christian invocation with roots in the New Testament.

After receiving a complaint about this matter, Americans United in June wrote to the board asking it to drop the policy.

“[T]he Board’s practice exploits the prayer opportunity to advance the Christian faith,” AU said.

The letter also explained that some notable U.S. Supreme Court decisions are not on the board’s side. In Marsh v. Chambers and Greece v. Galloway, the high court allowed government bodies to open their meetings with prayers under certain conditions – even if the majority of the invocations are Christian.

But these ruling don’t apply to school boards, in part because students sometimes attend those meetings.

“Because students are impressionable, and because their attendance at schools is involuntary, courts are ‘particularly vigilant in monitoring compliance with the [First Amendment] in elementary and secondary schools,’” the letter stated.

School board meetings should be places of public business, not public prayer.

As reported by the Charleston Post and Courier, yesterday’s school board meeting marked the first at which the Lord’s Prayer was absent. The newspaper said Board Chairman Jim Hayes opened the proceedings by offering a moment of silence “so each of us can reflect on our own faith and its place in our work here this evening.”

All nine members then bowed their heads and some said a quiet, personal prayer, according to the news report.

“I think of all us just realized it was a matter of time before this was going to occur,” Hayes said.  

At least one board member said she has no problem with a moment of silent reflection.

“For me, we are compelled as a body to be inclusive of all religions,” Vice Chairwoman Kathy Schwalbe said. “I know what I’m going to be saying during those 60 seconds and I believe my Lord hears me.”

But not everyone embraced the change.

Unleashing some hyperbole, Board Member Phillip Obie II called the moment of silence “the worst thing ever,” adding, “If somebody wants to sue us in the name of God, then let ‘em do it.”

Fortunately, it seems a lawsuit won’t be necessary. A moment of silence is better than opening with a prayer because it accommodates people of all faiths and no faith. It helps ensure that no one’s rights are infringed upon and no one feels excluded.

Here at Americans United, we keep a close watch on public schools to make certain they don’t violate church-state separation by promoting religion. We can’t do that without your help, so if you get wind of any problems like this in your community, please let us know!