PICKENS COUNTY—Despite cries from the public not to abandon student-led invocations at the beginning of Pickens County School Board meetings, a vote made a change in prayer policy final Monday night.
A motion to adopt a “non-sectarian” prayer was approved 3-2 Monday night with one board member (Jimmy Gillespie) abstaining. Jim Shelton and Ben Trotter voted against the decision.
More than 15 resident made their cases against the decision at the monthly meeting.
“We’re giving up without a fight,” Pickens County resident Junius Smith said. “We are due for a fight in this country.”
Many citizens stated the board was ignoring the public’s will.
“By making this decision you are making a mockery of God, and you will be failing to represent the interest of citizens who elected you and that is an act of treason,” Brett Harris, a Pickens County high school student said. “I’m ashamed to be a student under (the board’s) leadership.”
Trotter, who voted against the decision, said he felt like it was the right thing to do.
“If I vote for this policy it would cut deep,” Trotter said. “In my younger years I was taught there is only one way to pray, and that is that you go through the Father through the Son. I believe a moment of silence, that we’re not even talking about, is useless. It’s my understanding that Satan worshipers call their person God or Lord, so with that I can’t vote for this policy.”
Board member Alex Saitta said the decision was clear.
“I’m not happy with most of the court cases in this country the last 50 years, and the liberalization of our court system,” Saitta said. “However, when you are facing a lawsuit, what matters is how the courts have ruled (legal precedent). Looking at the landmark cases in the fourth Circuit Court like Great Falls, Forsyth and Chesterfield, our federal appeals court has ruled sectarian prayers at the start of government meetings are unconstitutional.”
Pickens County resident Chuck Dooley did not agree that this type of prayer is unconstitutional.
“Our constitution specifically states that our inalienable rights, including freedom to worship God, come from God,” Dooley said. “Freedom of religion not from religion has been a cornerstone of our government from the very beginning and it has been reaffirmed numerous times over the years.”
“I’m not sure what part of that the board doesn’t understand,” Dooley continued. “If you can’t abide by what the voters elected you to do, and what this country was founded on, then you should resign.”
“I’ve never doubted (the boards) authority until now,” Harris said. “You are simply the latest example of why people no longer respect Christianity, God and the church. Your display of weakness is exactly why people no longer take our faith seriously.”
Despite the decision to switch the prayer process, Saitta said the district could still face a lawsuit from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The organization threatened a suit if the board did not cease student-led prayer, and FFRF officials have recently stated that no prayer is acceptable at school board meetings, sectarian or not.
“The Freedom From Religion Foundation is unhappy with our new policy of non-sectarian prayer. Clearly we have a legal disagreement there,” Saitta said. “We believe prayer at the start of deliberative bodies such as a school board, county council or state legislature has its roots in the first session of the US Congress.”
“It is a 200-plus year tradition that I support. Our new policy of a non-sectarian prayer is constitutional as well as in line with state law, and we believe the state of South Carolina stands alongside that of the Pickens County School Board on this issue,” Saitta continued.