The Hoover, Ala., School Board recently reinstated an old pre-meeting prayer policy, but it’s not as bad as you might think.
I know, I know. This is Alabama – home of “Ten Commandments judge” Roy Moore who thinks the First Amendment only applies to Christians.
This time, however, at least some officials in Alabama got it right. The Huntsville Times reported that the board’s policy calls for nothing more than a moment of silence.
The policy was reinstated this week after four years without any sort of prayer or moment of silence, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway in which the court decided that the Greece, N.Y., Town Board’s practice of allowing mostly sectarian prayers before meetings is constitutionally permissible.
The Hoover School Board had suspended its policy previously in part because of a warning from Americans United. In 2009, then-School Board President Suzy Baker chose to end the board’s practice of opening meetings with prayers in favor of a moment of silence. The Times said an attorney for the board suggested the switch over fear of a lawsuit and a desire to make everyone in the Hoover community feel included.
But in May 2010, then-board President Donna Frazier nixed the inclusive policy on her way out the door, allowing a pre-meeting invocation on her final day as president.
That prompted a warning letter from Americans United, which led the board to bring back its moment of silence. Eventually that, too, was done away with.
In the wake of the Greece decision, we’ve already seen several local government officials who think they now have approval from the Supreme Court to impose Christianity on their constituents. They don’t.
Even though the high court imposed very few limits on legislative prayers, it’s good to see that not everyone is taking this as an opportunity to impose dogma. No government bodies are required to open their sessions with a prayer, but if they want to do something along those lines, a moment of silence is absolutely the best policy because it does not alienate anyone.
There seems to be some indication, however, that this inclusive moment of silence could be short lived.
Current School Board President Paulette Pearson said Frazier, who is still on the board, has been pressuring her colleagues to bring prayer back.
“Donna has been pushing for that for years and trying very hard to get that to happen,” Pearson said. “We all wanted it back. Every one of us have wanted it back.”
Pearson continued: “People in this community want prayer. It doesn’t say a ‘moment of silence.’ It’s to pray. We will bow our heads, and we will pray ... If anybody needs prayer, it’s us.”
But it gets worse. The Times reported that Frazier was likely to be nominated for board president again, though she only has one year remaining on her second five-year term.
Despite that clearly ominous fact, there is some hope: Pearson is at least paying lip service to the diversity of her community.
“We do have several members who are concerned about there being different religions within our group,” Pearson said. “We do have such a diverse group in Hoover. We decided that it would be good to give people an opportunity to pray as they want to pray. Not all people are Christians, which is hard for some of us to grasp. We sometimes forget that.”
Let’s hope that sentiment wins out, but it seems AU will need to keep a watchful eye on the Hoover School Board. The Greece decision doesn’t give government officials the right to proselytize or promise damnation for non-believers, and we intend to make sure those facts (and the First Amendment) are respected.