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Keystone residents speak up for school board invocation

BY DAN HILDEBRAN

Monitor Editor

The pastor of a Keystone church and another Lake Region resident urged the Clay County School Board to retain its invocation at the beginning of its meetings.

During an August School board session, board member Johnna McKinnon put the item on the board’s agenda.  In April, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State sent a letter to the board, asking them to discontinue the practice.

McKinnon argued that the board has always started their meetings with prayer.  She  asked her colleagues to retain the custom.

Pastor Daniel Findley of the First Baptist Church of Keystone Heights told board members that humans have been reaching out to a higher power since the beginning of history.

“The notion of us invoking deity is something that is fundamental to who we are as a people,” he said. “The early humans living in the African wilderness sought out a tree and said, ‘Tree, help me to live a better life.’”

Findley said that public prayer at government meetings sets an example for area residents.

“We recognize that we as people are limited in our ability,” he said. “We need to encourage all the citizens of Clay County to call out for help.”

He added that backing down from public prayer under threat of litigation would set a bad example for district students.

“I fear that sets a bad precedent for the students we are trying to teach when some organizations will take on some bully-like tactics.”

Another Lake Region resident, Sylvia Croft of Keystone Heights also asked board members to continue the invocation at the meetings.

“Prayer is a supremely important issue because it is the key way we acknowledge God and our dependence on Him,” she said.

Harry Parrot of Penny Farms, the President of the Clay County Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, applauded board members for what he said was a welcomed trend in school board invocations.

“Our group has noticed that recently members of your board have tried very hard to make prayers non-sectarian and inclusive or, as last month, to simply begin with a moment of silence,” he said.  “We want to thank you tonight for your growing sensitivity to this issue.”

He urged the board to move toward a time when their meetings would begin without any reference to religion.

Parrot told the board that nothing divides people more than religion.

“We like to talk about religion in terms of love and goodwill,” he said,  “but the fact of life and the fact of history is that religion has always set people against each other, sometimes in very savage ways.”

Parrot said that while individuals and places of worship should freely express their religious beliefs without government interference, legal authorities should stay away from endorsing faiths.

“Let’s keep our religious beliefs and our practices out of our government agencies because government agencies such as schools, courts and others must serve all of our citizens, whatever their religious background.”

Board members agreed to continue opening meetings with invocations while they wait for a supreme court decision on the matter later this year or early next year.

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