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Lord's Prayer officially removed from Greencastle-Antrim school board meetings

October 04, 2012|By ROXANN MILLER | roxann.miller@herald-mail.com
  • Greencastle-Antrim School Board Vice President Brian Hissong read a prepared letter Thursday night explaining the board's decision to remove the Lord's Prayer from its meetings.
Photo by Roxann Miller

GREENCASTLE, Pa. — It’s official. The Lord’s Prayer will no longer be part of the Greencastle-Antrim School Board’s agenda.

The board observed a moment of reflection while the audience — smaller than in previous meetings — recited the Lord’s Prayer aloud.

At its last meeting, board President Eric Holtzman said the district’s legal counsel advised pulling the prayer from the agenda and replacing it with a moment of silence.

But, on Thursday, board Vice President Brian Hissong, filling in for Holtzman who was not in attendance, made it official.

“The school Board of Directors wants to thank the community for its support over the last few weeks with this most difficult situation,” Hissong read from a prepared letter.

While he said the board investigated its options, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August 2011 that board-led prayer at meetings was not permitted, therefore unconstitutional.

The school board’s break from tradition was in response to several visits from members of Pennsylvania atheist groups, who told the school board to stop praying at its meetings or face legal action.

Carl Silverman, of Pennsylvania Non-Believers of York (Pa.), and Ernest Perce V,  Pennsylvania state director for American Atheists, said the board was breaking the law by making prayer part of its meetings.

“While we as a board and a community may strongly disagree with these decisions, we are faced with the following facts —the current law states that we are not permitted to lead the Lord’s Prayer at board meetings,” Hissong read.

He said if the district pursues legal action, it would automatically lose at the first judicial level due to last year’s ruling. To appeal it to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the district must convince the court that Greencastle-Antrim’s case is different that the case ruled on last year.

Court costs could be in excess of $600,000, Hissong read in the letter.

If the appeals are lost, the district could be responsible for the plaintiffs court costs, which could be between $1 and $2 million.

“Open disregard for this law by Greencastle’s board, as a whole, can result in legal action against the district, as well as disqualifying of insurances required by law,” Hissong read.

While none of the board members wanted to comment about the decision, Greencastle-Antrim resident Richard Skiber made his feelings known.

“I believe it’s our right to do it (say the Lord’s Prayer) in spite of what the court says,” Skiber said. “I just feel like I’m a Christian and I have a right and I should be able to do it as long as I’m here I’m going to continue to come and say the Lord’s Prayer.”

He was not happy with the board’s decision.

“We said a Pledge of Allegiance — it’s under God, and I believe this country was started by men who wanted us to do this, and it’s our right,” he said. “I believe that’s a right that’s been taken away from us.”

Neither Silverman nor Perce were in attendance on Thursday. But, during a phone interview with Silverman on Tuesday, he said he was pleased with the direction that Greencastle was heading.

“We took care of Big Spring (school district) and hopefully we took care of Greencastle-Antrim,” Silverman said on Tuesday.

He said someone will continue to monitor the prayer situation.

He still has an issue with the crowd praying the Lord's Prayer out loud during the moment of silence.

“They are not obeying the moment of silence. I consider that disruptive,” he said. “Disrupting a lawful meeting is breaking the law in Pennsylvania.”

He warned the crowd to be careful or they might have charges filed against them, which he said would be misdemeanor charges.

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