January 2016 Church & State - January 2015

School Board In Fla. Rejects Sectarian Invocations

  AU admin

The Collier County, Fla., School Board has decided against opening its meetings with an invocation. Some local residents had called for the invocations as an alternative to the board’s current practice of opening its meetings with a moment of silence.

Ian Smith, a staff attorney for Americans United, sent the school board a letter informing them that prayer at school board meetings violates the First Amendment.

“Because students are impressionable and because attendance at school is involuntary, courts are ‘particularly vigilant in monitoring compliance with the Establishment Clause in elementary and secondary schools,’” Smith wrote, citing language from Edwards v. Aguillard, a 1987 Supreme Court decision.

Representatives of Americans United’s Naples chapter also testified against the invocation proposal at a public meeting. The school board subsequently voted against the idea.

The editorial board of the Naples Daily News applauded the move.

“Embroiling the Collier district in what could become a decades-long U.S. constitutional battle in hopes of reversing clear-cut judicial rulings elsewhere in the country simply makes no sense,” it wrote. “Collier County isn’t a nation unto itself, so if invocation advocates feel that strongly they have ways of petitioning higher levels of government to try to achieve their ends.”

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