LITTLE ROCK (AP) — Two northern Arkansas school boards have temporarily ceased prayer before meetings.
The Springdale and Harrison school boards are researching the legality of the public prayers after receiving a letter from The Freedom From Religion Foundation. The Wisconsin-based group monitors matters regarding separation of church and state.
The foundation sent a letter to Springdale on Dec. 29 and to Harrison on March 6, saying public prayers before board meetings violated the U.S. Constitution. The foundation’s staff attorney, Patrick Elliott, said the group received complaints regarding meetings of both school boards.
“It is beyond the scope of a public school board to schedule or conduct prayer as part of its meetings,” Elliott wrote in the letters. “If the board continues to pray, it will subject the school district to unnecessary liability and potential financial strain.”
Elliot added that forcing individuals to participate in payer can be intimidating.
Harrison Board of Education President Jon Burnside said the issue will likely be addressed at the next board meeting on April 18. The board didn’t pray before their meeting Thursday.
“The biggest concern I have is the district,” Burnside said. “And I don’t want to drag the district through a lengthy financial battle.”
Springdale School Board President Randy Hutchinson said the board stopped praying at the end of 2016. He said the board will investigate the matter and move forward based on their findings.
“As of right now, we’ve just sort of put it on hold,” Hutchinson said. “We’re in the process of doing our due diligence to see if we have a leg to stand on, so to speak.