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Should Norwalk school board have right to pray at meetings?

Cary Ashby • Sep 9, 2015 at 8:20 AM

A national non-profit organization has requested Norwalk City Schools no longer have prayer on its monthly agenda for the board of education.

Norwalk resident Amy Little said the Freedom From Religion Foundation is attempting to “rob us of our faith.”

“I think that’s sad,” said Little, who is a Lutheran pastor, but made it clear she was speaking as a district parent.

During public participation, she told the crowd she was going to pray and those who didn’t want to participate had the option of putting their fingers in their ears. Little thanked God for Norwalk’s great teachers and asked for God’s peace and mediation since the district is negotiating the next contract with the Norwalk Teachers Association.

“Help us listen to you,” she said during her prayer.

A prayer led by a local pastor wasn’t on Tuesday’s agenda, but a discussion about the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s June 26 letter to board president John Lendrum was. Lendrum was the only person to receive the letter, but forwarded it to Superintendent George Fisk. Contacted by “a concerned local resident,” the foundation requested in the letter that the board “immediately refrain from scheduling prayers as part of future school board meetings to uphold the rights of conscience in our First Amendment.”

“We haven’t had much of a chance to discuss it,” Fisk said after the meeting, adding the district needs to look into the matter more.

Board member Rob Ludwig quickly spoke up about the matter.

“I’d personally like to ignore the letter and continue putting prayer (into) our meetings,” he said.

Ludwig said the school teaches students what it means to be an American and stressed “the first step in Americanism” is stated clearly in the Declaration of Independence by acknowledging humanity has a creator.

“It’s clear we have a creator,” he added.

Board member Kevin Cashen, before offering his feedback, noted that the state motto is “With God, all things are possible” and the national motto is “In God we trust” — both of which have been upheld in federal court as being legal.

“We are going down a slippery slope in ignoring our historical perspective,” he said.

Lendrum requested Fisk research the legal issues and precedents and obtain information from the Ohio Department of Education and Ohio School Boards Association.

“The board needs that (information) to make an informed decision,” he said.

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