FFRF still unhappy with school district’s decision

By Nicole Daughhetee

Courier Staff

COUNTY — As people filed out of the School District of Pickens County’s board of trustees meeting following a controversial vote on prayer at meetings on Feb. 25, one member of the crowd yelled out “this isn’t the end.”

That person was right.

Despite the board passing the adoption of a new policy of non-sectarian prayer before SDPC meetings, a decision that upset the hundreds of Pickens County residents who spoke against the policy, the board’s vote is still under the scrutiny of the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) and its members.

Under an “Action Alert” header on the FFRF’s website, the foundation is asking for help in persuading the School District of Pickens County’s board of trustees to drop prayers to begin its monthly meetings.

The website states that the letter staff attorney Patrick Elliott sent to the district on Nov. 26, protesting the school board’s “egregious practice of opening meetings with prayer led by students, which included sectarian references to the ‘Holy Spirit’ and ‘Jesus’” sent “the religious community into a tizzy.”

The FFRF also states that “this new policy would still violate the rights of conscience of students and parents who are nonreligious or religious minorities” and “as part of the public school system, school boards must set an example of respect and conform to law protecting children from the coercion of school-sponsored religion.”

SDPC board trustee Alex Saitta responded to the statements made on the FFRF’s website.

“Prayer at the start of deliberative bodies such as a school board, county council or state legislature has its roots in the first session of the U.S. Congress,” he said. “It is a 200-plus-year tradition in our country, and one we have voted to continue at our school board meetings.”

The FFRF has said “the Pickens County school board should get in line with the U.S. Constitution and stop alienating the 19 percent of American adults who have no religious affiliation.”

Elliot, the attorney for the FFRF, maintains that “calling upon board members, as well as parents and students of the school, to pray is coercive, embarrassing, and beyond the scope of our secular school system.”

Saitta disagrees.

“Our policy of a non-sectarian prayer is constitutional and in line with state law 6-1-160, and we believe the state of South Carolina stands alongside that of the Pickens County school board on the issue,” he said. “For that reason, I will vote to continue the invocation at the start of our meetings.”

Following the FFRF’s Call to Action, SDPC board trustees are being inundated with emails from FFRF supporters across the country.

Trustee Ben Trotter said he received about eight emails Monday and another group Tuesday morning.

“I got an email from a professor of surgery at Yale School of Medicine,” said Trotter. “We caved on this thing too easily. I think we need to stake a stand.”

The SDPC board of trustees is scheduled to meet again on Monday, March 25, at which time the second reading on the policy to implement a non-sectarian, board member-led invocation at the start of SDPC meetings will be held to a vote.

To read more about the FFRF’s Action Alert urging FFRF supports to contact SDPC board members, visit their website at