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Texas school district cancels prayer event, caving to pressure from out-of-state group
Portrait of little boy clasped his hands in prayer. Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

Texas school district cancels prayer event, caving to pressure from out-of-state group

A Texas school board planned a prayer marathon in the lead-up to the new school year. The prospect that educators, parents, and students would voluntarily appeal to an unspecified higher power for safety and wisdom ahead of the fall semester proved too much to bear for one activist group from out of state.

The Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation appears to have successfully pressured the Burnet Consolidated Independent School District into canceling the event and agreeing to refrain from proposing something again online in the future.

In the revisionist history on the FFRF's website, the group alleges that "most social and moral progress has been brought about by persons free from religion," making no mention of the atrocities secular regimes have been wont to commit ever since the French Revolution.

The group further boasts that the irreligious have been, in modern times, "the first to speak out" in support of euthanasia, abortion, contraception, and sterilization.

Extra to promoting the separation of state and church, championing the legality of eugenicist practices, and advocating for LGBT dogma to be peddled in schools, the group has taken on an evangelical role: "to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism."

The group appears particularly hostile to public prayer, having characterized it as "unnecessary, ineffective, embarrassing, exclusionary, divisive or just plain silly."

On July 25, the Burnet CISD shared a now-deleted post on Facebook that read, "Join us beginning tomorrow as we pray to the first day."

The post assigned different schools and groups within the district, from custodial staff to parents and guardians, a different day to voluntarily pray, starting July 26 and running until August 16.

Samantha Lawrence, a legal fellow at the FFRF, apparently caught wind of the marathon and penned a letter to Superintendent Keith McBurnett on July 27, claiming a "concerned complainant" had flagged the event.

Lawrence suggested that the optional prayer event — which did not appear to specify a style or method of prayer, a corresponding creed, or an object of the transcendent appeals — displayed "clear favoritism towards religion over nonreligion by promoting and encouraging prayer."

"The District serves a diverse community that consists of not only religious students, families, and employees, but also atheists, agnostics, and those who are simply religiously unaffiliated," wrote Lawrence. "By promoting prayer, the District sends an official message that excludes all nonreligious District students and community members."

The FFRF activist demanded that the Burnet CISD "cease promoting prayer and refrain from doing so in the future," as well as remove the post from its Facebook account.

Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist newsletter highlighted how this was neither a lawsuit nor a threat.

Nevertheless, the school complied, reported the Washington Times.

In an Aug. 3 statement, the FFRF noted that McBurnett had written back, "The Facebook post has been removed, and the district will refrain from posting anything similar in the future."

Annie Gaylor, the co-president of the FFRF, celebrated the capitulation, writing, "We're glad that school officials are taking action to uphold constitutional neutrality."

"A school district does not need to pray for their students and staff. It needs to focus instead on providing a secular education free from religious indoctrination," added Gaylor.

Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch appears to be of a different mind.

In a June 2022 decision, where the Supreme Court ruled a high school football coach had a constitutional right to pray at the 50-yard line after his team's games, Gorsuch wrote, "Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse republic — whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or on a field, and whether they manifest through the spoken word or a bowed head."

TheBlaze reached out to McBurnett and Burnet CISD Board President Earl Foster for comment, but had not received a reply by the time of publication.

It remains unclear whether educators, students, and parents will continue their prayer marathon, albeit without the official sanction or direction of elements of the district.

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