Atheists Attack Prayer in Pennsylvania, Lose One in Tennessee

By:  Dave Bohon
09/04/2012
       
Atheists Attack Prayer in Pennsylvania, Lose One in Tennessee

 While around Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, have threatened to sue officials with the Greencastle-Antrim School Board if they continue to open their meetings in prayer, their cohorts in Tennessee have temporarily lost a bid to stop prayers by officials in Hamilton County.

Atheists around Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, don't like it that officials with the Greencastle-Antrim School Board open their meetings in prayer, and they told them so at a school board meeting in mid-August, threatening to sue if it didn't stop. On August 16, following the recitation of the Lord's Prayer by board members and other meeting participants — a tradition that stretches back to at least the mid-1980s — members of Pennsylvania Non-Believers and American Atheists stepped forward to insist that the practice is somehow unconstitutional and must be halted immediately.

One of the complainers, Carl Silverman of the Non-Believers group, said that “he had been monitoring the meetings in person and on the school district website, and wanted the board to cease the prayer, listed on the agenda after the Call to Order,” reported the local Record-Herald newspaper. Silverman added that he had enlisted the help of the folks at the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), whom he said would be following up with their customary letter of threat.

“It is a clear constitutional violation and if they don't [stop] they're going to face legal action,” Silverman told the local ABC news affiliate. “And they're going to lose because it's not a gray area anymore.”

The atheists based their demands on a decision by the Third Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, which ruled in 2011 that prayers offered by southern Delaware's Indian River School District were unconstitutional — a ruling the U.S. Supreme Court let stand.

Ernest Perce, a spokesman for Harrisburg, Pennsylvania's American Atheists club, told the Greencastle board that its prayer tradition was “absolutely a violation of church and state. It is endorsing Christianity as the favored religion. I am ready to challenge this school to the furthest, on your prayers to a fictitious god.”

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