Arkansas school board votes to continue prayer before meetings despite warning

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ARKANSAS -- After the Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a letter to the Harrison School Board asking it to stop praying at gatherings, the board did just that for one meeting.

“We decided we wanted to take some time to investigate that we were doing the right thing," said Harrison School Board President Jon Burnside.

Burnside said the members looked at on-going cases surrounding the issue of prayer at meetings across the country. They also contacted attorneys to get their opinion on the matter.

Just last week, the board unanimously voted to start praying again.

"The exact terminology was it's not really a classroom, it's more legislative. When you look at those type of ruling that we feel that was certainly ruled in our favor."

“That's absolutely wrong we sent a three page letter detailing the court cases that have found school board prayers are unconstitutional," said Patrick Elliott with the foundation.

The attorney said his foundation also has a legal case in California right now dealing with the same issue. The court ruled in favor of his organization, but the school has since appealed.

Elliott said that case is an example of what could happen in Harrison.

“As long as this is continuing it remains a legal liability for the board and ultimately tax payers in the school district. We will take a look at even if it doesn't result in an immediate suit, really that could be brought at any time by our organization or any citizen in the county."

Burnside said he and the other board members received support from the community with many encouraging prayer at the meetings. However, he said they will continue to monitor cases happening outside the state.

“We want to stay within the legal confines of what a school board should be doing."

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