Freedom From Religion Foundation Threatens Lawsuits in AL, NH

The volatile combination of public education and religion has bubbled up again as a New Hampshire high school notified a parent that she will no longer be allowed to pray on the campus. According to Kathleen Ronayne of the Scripps Howard News Service, Lizarda Urena has been praying in front of the Concord High School building for the past several months, but she will no longer be allowed to continue after the complaints from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

According to a Concord Monitor story published in May, Urena has been saying daily 15-minute prayers for the safety of students on the steps of the school’s auditorium after school staff found 2 bullets in the building’s bathroom. The story prompted a number of parents to complain to the Wisconsin-based group, which promotes the separation of church and state. The Foundation threatened district Superintendent Chris Rath with a lawsuit unless the parent’s prayers were stopped.

The group’s attorney sent a letter to Superintendent Chris Rath, saying the district should not allow Urena to continue praying at the school. Rath responded July 12, saying the district would tell Urena she could no longer pray on school district property, according to the Monitor Rath declined to comment this week, and Principal Gene Connolly did not respond to a request for comment. Urena said administrators have not formally told her to stop yet, but she said Connolly has asked to speak with her, and she expects she’ll be told to end the praying.

According to a statement issued by the Foundation, by allowing Urena to pray on school property, the staff was showing support for religious expression that should have remained private. Urena has already said that she plans to continue praying for the safety of the students and faculty, although she will probably do so either from home or from a gas station across the street.

Concord isn’t the only district getting letters from the Foundation this week. Another lawsuit was threatened in Cullman, Alabama over the Cullman County School’s plans to hold a prayer caravan next month. Paul Gettis of reports that the Foundation took exception to plans by district leaders to drive to all campuses to say a 15-minute prayer.

Although Superintendent Billy Coleman said that the caravan has not been canceled, all the references to it have been taken off the district website and Facebook page.

According to the announcement on the foundation website, “The school system’s official “prayer caravan” event description on its website ended with, “It will be a time to lift our schools up to God and ask His blessings for the upcoming school year.”

The foundation said it sent a letter of complaint to Cullman County Schools Superintendent Billy Coleman on July 22, saying the event should be canceled. Hours after the letter was emailed, all references to the prayer caravan was removed from the system website and Facebook page, the foundation said.

The foundation also called on Cullman County Schools to end its “unconstitutional practice” of reciting the Lord’s Prayer each morning.

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