A faithful mother in Concord, New Hampshire, will be banned by public school officials from delivering sermons and speeches on the front steps of Concord High School. Lizarda Urena's public proclamations -- uttered aloud as students entered the school -- included prayers and Bible verses, among other religious sentiment.
Urena, who has two high-school aged children, apparently began arriving at the school around 7 a.m. back in February to offer up prayers. Her ritual, the New Hampshire Union Leader reports, began after she heard that bullets were found in a school bathroom. Now officials, led by Superintendent Christine Rath, are cracking down, claiming that the mother's actions will no longer be allowed when the new school year begins.
The mother's prayers apparently came to the attention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), an atheist activist non-profit that works to strip faith out of the public sphere. After learning that Urena was issuing sectarian prayers and proclamations, the organization complained to the district.
“We sent an open records request to the school district, asking them for copies of any meeting minutes or any sort of documents which gave this woman permission to pray on school property,” FFRF attorney Rebecca Markert told the Union Leader.
The FFRF was particularly frustrated that the school did not crack down on the speech in the first place. After receiving word from officials that there never was permission for the mother -- at least a documented allowance -- to be speaking on campus in such a manner, the group successfully argued that the Concord School District should make moves to prevent her sermons.
The Alliance for Defending Freedom, a conservative group, defended Urena's prayer atop the school stairs.
“Students and community members that are allowed to come on campus and participate in a neutral thing are allowed to express religious viewpoints,” the group's general counsel Matthew Sharp told the Union Leader. "The students know it’s the mother and her own speech -- something that the First Amendment protects -- and that it is not the school mandating this woman to do it."
But other groups like the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union agree with the district's stance on the matter. Since students are forced to enter the school and, thus, listen to Urena's speech, the debate is a fascinating one.
The Concord Monitor reports that, as of earlier this week, Urena hadn't yet been told to stop having a presence on campus, but, on Wednesday, Principal Gene Connolly was slated to meet with the mother. The report claims that the mother had already been asked to stop praying aloud, though -- a request she complied with.
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The outlet, which started to cover the debate back in May, continues:
After the Monitor’s article ran [in mid-May], Urena said she was asked to stop praying aloud but was permitted to stay on school property. She heard that people began complaining about her to administrators. When she began praying silently, some students approached her and asked why they could no longer hear her, she said.
Urena plans to continue praying for the students’ safety even if she can’t do so on campus. She will pray at her home or at the gas station across the street from the school, she said. Although she is sad she will be asked to leave, she said she appreciates that Connolly let her pray there for several months.
Urena's story has prompted diverse responses from faith leaders. While some believe she should have the right to pray at the school in this manner, others agree that the district did the right thing by stopping it.
The FFRF has argued that the district's initial silence was a "stamp of approval" on the mother's faith-based messages. What do you think? Take the poll, below.
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(H/T: Union Leader)