The National Day of Prayer (NDP) is fast approaching – it’s May 5. The annual observance of this event always causes problems, and this year, we’re getting an early start.
In Florida, the Miami-Dade School Board recently voted unanimously in favor of a resolution acknowledging the NDP. This school board, like similar bodies all over America, is charged with serving families of various religious beliefs and those who aren’t religious. Promoting religion shouldn’t be part of the agenda.
The resolution’s sponsor, Christi Fraga, insisted she was only trying to “unite people of all faiths and encourage those who want to get together and pray to do so.” We’ve got two problems here: One, the board’s action excludes people who are nonreligious or don’t pray. Two, promoting prayer or other forms of religious worship isn’t part of a school board’s job.
Making matters worse, another board member, Lubby Navarro, went on a tear about the resolution for 10 minutes, telling young people who are troubled to turn to God instead of professional counselors. Navarro concluded by saying that she believes prayer will “send a message to our community that we have one creator, one creator, and that is God and Jesus Christ.” (So much for that “all faiths” claim, huh?)
Steve Gallon III, the board’s vice chair, later offered an awkwardly worded apology, remarking, “[M]y heart was heavy when I took a respite for a moment and heard some commentary relative to how some people were made to feel.” Gallon insisted the board meant no offense but noted, “There were some offenses taken relative to some of the comments that were made.” (Offenses were taken? Maybe that’s because the board behaved in an offensive manner.)
Gallon’s words are better than nothing, but they overlook an obvious fact: This entire unpleasant incident could have been avoided if the members of the board had simply stuck to their job – overseeing a public school system that, by law, must be secular and serve all children. Promoting religious exercises shouldn’t be on the agenda.
P.S. Remember, Americans United has produced “Know Your Rights” guides for students, parents and teachers that discuss church-state issues in public education. Check them out!