Just as Flagler County commissioners started proffering prayers at public meetings, as the school board almost did, the Brevard County Commission paid out $490,000 in a settlement for doing so illegally for years.
church and state
School Board members Colleen Conklin and Andy Dance argued against the “circus” and divisiveness that would be invited if the board abandoned its custom of the last four decades and resumed opening meetings with prayers, ending a controversy began in August when Board Chairman Janet McDonald unexpectedly invited a pastor to offer an invocation.
A federal appeals court Wednesday overturned the dismissal of a lawsuit about whether the Florida High School Athletic Association improperly prevented Christian schools from offering a prayer over the stadium loudspeaker before a 2015 state championship football game.
Palm Coast’s Merrill Shapiro, a member of the national board of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, presented legal arguments at a talk Thursday against the Flagler County School Board’s potential return to starting meetings with invocations.
A divided Flagler County School Board has yet to decide whether and how to conduct invocations at the start of its meetings following Chairman Janet McDonald’s out-of-order introduction of a pastor and her invocation at the August meeting.
School Board Chair Janet McDonald’s decision to start Tuesday’s meeting with a prayer by a pastor had not been approved by the board nor placed on the agenda, a violation of board procedures and a break with a nearly 50-year precedent.
“Brevard County has selected invocation speakers in a way that favors certain monotheistic religions and categorically excludes from consideration other religions solely based on their belief systems,” a federal appeals court ruled.
The Flagler County school district is following state law in adopting a new but vague policy protecting religious expression, though some school board members say it’s an unnecessary imposition.
Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero urged a Constitution Revision Commission panel to repeal a constitutional ban on state support for religious groups.
A ban on state support for religious groups would be removed from the Florida Constitution under a proposal approved Wednesday by a Constitution Revision Commission panel.