West Branch OKs student-led prayers

BELOIT–The West Branch school board last week approved a change to the administrative guidelines that addresses prayer at school events, an issue that garnered national attention earlier this year.

The board approved an addendum “regarding the administrative guidelines on providing a limited open forum for invocations at school events,” which allows for student-led prayers.

According to schools Superintendent Timothy Saxton, the addendum “helps us more clearly define and implement our policy allowing student-led voluntary invocations before events. The board felt this resolution gives us more direction as a district and administrative team for future challenges.”

Saxton in an email Thursday praised the board on its action.

“I applaud the board’s decision as it has taken a clear stand and feels that the tradition of allowing (prayer) before home varsity events is something that truly matters to our students and the West Branch Local School District’s strong faith-based community,” he said.

The district’s board policies states that the superintendent is authorized to design and implement administrative guidelines and that a copy of the guidelines manual is to be maintained in the district office.

The board in January indefinitely suspended public prayer before athletic events in response to a complaint expressed in a letter from the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) based in Madison, Wisc. The organization cited two individual complaints, the first of which specified a Jan. 5 varsity boys basketball game in which all in attendance were asked over the loudspeaker to remain standing after the national anthem for a prayer that was “Christian in nature” and the second reporting that prayers occur at sporting and holiday events in the district, sometimes by a principal and sometimes by an invited pastor.

In the letter, the FFRF declared 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.”

Non-denominational prayers had been offered by a member of the ministerial association before each varsity football and boys basketball game, as well as some other activities such as high school commencement.

The suspension of prayer led to a community response under the theme “Prayer Matters” that expanded into surrounding school districts and raised funds to fight a legal battle against the elimination of prayer before school events.

The district eventually allowed student-led moments of silence for individual prayer before events.

No court action was taken against the district.



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