State Ed Board Will Continue Opening Meetings with Prayers

State Ed Board Will Continue Opening Meetings with Prayers

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- State Board of Education members have decided to continue opening meetings with prayers, just under another name.

The board on Friday voted to change its "reverence" portion of the agenda to "opening remarks" to adhere to a request from the group Utah Atheists. However, the cosmetic change in wording will still allow board members to begin their monthly meetings with prayers.

Board members could choose not to address the board when it comes their turn, or invite a community member to offer the welcome instead.

The new bylaws prohibit the board from previewing or editing opening remarks made by the public.

"You have this continuum (where we could say), 'We don't care if you litigate' ... or, 'We're not going to take any risks, we're not going to have any prayer at all,"' said board member Debra Roberts. "What we're trying to say is, we're going to keep the spirit of this ... and you as an individual choose what is right."

The change wasn't unanimous, however.

"I will continue to pray for you and with you if you want," board member Greg Haws said.

But he said would prefer to just "say welcome, let's get on with the business, rather than taking time to ... fulfill this balancing act so I can stand up and pray for you in public."

Utah Atheists wrote the school board in April asking for the change.

That followed similar letters the group started sending in December 2003 to more than 150 towns across the state reminding city governments to comply with two state Supreme Court decisions and asking for the opportunity to present opening remarks.

Prayer during opening ceremonies is legal, the high court ruled in 1993, provided the opportunity to deliver the prayer is nondiscriminatory and available to all. All religions or philosophies, no matter how repugnant to the mainstream, must be welcomed.

Ten years later, the issue was revisited after the city of Murray rejected a man's request to offer a prayer, a portion of which read, "We pray that you prevent self-righteous politicians from misusing the name of God in conducting government meetings."

The court ruled that cities may not deny anyone the right to participate because of the content of their message.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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