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"We will continue to pray privately, but we will not be praying publicly," School Board president Jeff Neil said Monday at the opening of the School Board meeting.

After a special presentation of students singing the National Anthem and all reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, Neal said: "There' s noticeably something absent from this board meeting. Traditionally we have started off with prayer.

"We have been contacted by the national Freedom From Religion organization and have been advised by our legal counsel not to pray publicly before the board meeting... I would say that the board certainly invites the prayers of the community for this district and for this community. This is not a decision that we take lightly," Neal said. "However, we have to be cognizant of the taxpayers' money... that's, unfortunately, all that would happen if we fought this at this point is we would spend a lot of money in legal fees," he said referring to the cost of a legal battle.

"We will continue to pray privately for the district, but unfortunately, we will not be praying at the board meetings moving forward."

According to the letter to which Neil referred from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, "a concerned local Pea Ridge resident has reported that the Pea Ridge School District broadcasts prayer over the loudspeaker before every home football game. It is our understanding that the prayer is usually recited by a student. Our complainant also reports that the Pea Ridge School Board leads prayer before every meeting."

The letter, dated Nov. 29, 2019, was sent to superintendent Rick Neal by email and the U.S. Postal Service. Several Supreme Court decisions are cited declaring such prayer to be a violation of the First Amendment.

Christopher Line, staff attorney at FFRF, wrote: "The District must take immediate action to end the practice of scheduling prayer at school-sponsored events and end the use of District equipment to project prayers to the public. Please inform us in writing of the steps the District is taking to remedy this serious violation of the First Amendment."

Superintendent Neal said he conferred with legal counsel Marshall Ney who advised him to cease prayer at all school-sponsored events. Ney is an attorney with Friday, Eldridge & Clark, Rogers.

General News on 12/11/2019

Print Headline: Local resident filed complaint

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