Candidate wants return to opening prayer INSTEAD MOMENT OF SILENCE
Some Gilbert residents want school board to bring back prayer
Candidate wants return to opening prayer
Gilbert Public Schools governing board candidate Daryl Colvin is among a group of town residents who are upset that the school board decided not to discuss bringing back a non-denominational prayer at the beginning of its meetings.
The school board used to have an invocation followed by the Pledge of Allegiance but replaced the prayer with a moment of silence in August 2001.
It's unclear why the 2001 decision was made because the board minutes do not show a reason for the change, a district spokeswoman said.
Colvin said he finds the moment of silence "insulting, ridiculously short and unnecessary," calling it a "need to bow to political correctness to a ridiculous degree."
A YouTube video, "No Prayer at Gilbert Unified School District Meeting," which is set to a religious song and chastises the board's decision, ended by saying the board's refusal to discuss the matter marked an "extraordinarily sad day for the children of Gilbert." On Wednesday, the video had more than 325 views.
The GPS board, which still opens its meetings with the moment of silence and the Pledge of Allegiance, is among the majority of Southeast Valley boards that don't begin meetings with a prayer. Only Mesa opens with a prayer.
Chandler Unified School District ended the practice last year and opted for a moment of reflection after an Arizona School Boards Association law conference suggested boards avoid prayers to prevent lawsuits.
Gilbert board President E.J. Anderson said although she is a "believer in and supporter of prayer," prayer in school board meetings is not a simple, straightforward issue.
"It is fraught with many legal issues and ramifications," Anderson said in an e-mail. "Current law and high-court rulings limit the way we can pray. I believe the current moment of silence allows everyone to pray the way they want. I believe that is important. It makes me very sad that prayer has become a very divisive issue in our community."
Chris Thomas, ASBA's general counsel, said the "safest" thing a school board can do is offer a moment of silence or reflection.
"If you do a prayer that references Jesus Christ or any of the tenets of Christianity, that will clearly be unconstitutional," said Thomas, citing two court cases. "Although some communities expect it (a prayer), it's only going to take one parent to make a complaint. That's why we have to be careful."
A non-denominational prayer can be given as long as there are no references to any particular faith.
Colvin said a prayer would help the Gilbert school board and management make "better decisions and fewer mistakes," and if elected to the board in November, he will vote to bring back prayer at the meetings.
"The school district needs to make a decision whether they are there to help perpetuate successful American traditions, or to place a left-wing activism where they want to undermine those traditions," said Colvin, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "They voted in favor of leftist activism. I find that particularly disturbing and a good example why we need some changes on that board."
Colvin quoted Benjamin Franklin's speech from the Constitutional Convention of 1787 as an example of the importance of prayer at the opening of public meetings when he asked the board to reconsider a non-denominational prayer at the Sept. 4 school board meeting.
Only board member Staci Burk was in favor of bringing the issue to a discussion at a future work study session.
"I observed the Mesa school board meeting recently open with a prayer and it appears to set a positive tone to the subsequent deliberations," Burk said in an e-mail.
Board member Helen Hollands, who has been on the board since January 2001 and remembers when prayers were given, said she does not completely remember why a moment of silence replaced the invocation. Hollands said she only remembers that students were welcome at the meetings and encouraged to attend board meetings, and that might have been the reason for the change.
Thomas said "there's a difference when dealing with a captive audience of children" at board meetings.
Hollands supports a moment of silence because "it allows all in attendance to exercise their freedom to pray in the way most meaningful to them as an individual.
"No one has ever been denied the right to pray, or instructed not to pray, during the moment of silence," Hollands said in an e-mail. "If the vocalization of their prayer is critical to an individual, I would support their right to do so during the moment of silence, if the action does not infringe upon the rights of the other individuals present to use the moment of silence as they choose."
Anita Christy, a Gilbert business owner who runs the conservative blog Gilbert Watch, disagrees with the board's decision, calling the board "gutless" for "rejecting God."
"Who are these gutless wonders who are more afraid of offending the leftists than of offending God?" Christy said in an e-mail to her blog subscribers, naming the four board members who voted against further discussion. "Are there no Christians in this community willing to stand against the atheists who are taking over their children?"
Christy said the Town Council handles its invocations "beautifully." The council's agenda says that the invocation "may be offered by a person of any religion, faith, belief or non-belief, as well as council members."
Chandler Unified School District board president Barb Mozdzen said she was "very reluctant" to stop the prayers at Chandler's meetings and was "sad to see it go, personally." However, she said the amount of money needed to defend a lawsuit would take money out of the classroom, and "it's not worth it."
Now, during the reflection, rotating Chandler board members read a poem or recite a quote. "It's kind of a feel-good thing for all," said Mozdzen, a three-year board member. "It gets you in the mood to say, 'Here's what we're here for.' We're positively impacting our students."