Public keeps prayer issue alive

By Ben Robinson
Staff Reporter

COUNTY — During the public input session of Monday night’s meeting of the Pickens County School Board, several local residents brought up the issue of prayer before meetings, which had been addressed at the last school board meeting.

A board vote last month on a revised prayer policy ended in a 3-3 tie, meaning the issue failed.

The Rev. Tony Qualkinbush, a former school board candidate, used his time during public session to pray.

Qualkinbush prayed that the meeting would unite and not divide Pickens County “with an unwavering focus on superior education of our children.”

The Rev. Jimmy Burrell of Gilead Baptist Church said he felt he should come back and speak to board members after last month’s vote.

Burrell said those who voted against prayer in meeting feared it would put students under undue scrutiny.

“We gave up privileges we have for fear so we can maybe have other privileges,” Burrell said. “That’s not how you keep rights. That’s not how you stay free.”

Burrell encouraged board members to remember the issue is dear to people.

“This is not something that’s going to go away,” Burrell said. “Since this has been brought up, we have a new superintendent and three new board members, and it will be brought up again. Be thinking about that, because this board represents the people of this county. And the people want a policy that reflects their faith.”

The Rev. James Anthony said other supporters of opening school board meetings with sectarian prayers have been concerned about the issue.

“We talked, we prayed and we just feel like we need to come back and address this again,” Anthony said.

Anthony then directed comments toward board members who voted against the prayer proposal last month.

“Dr. (Herbert) Cooper, I don’t know you, and you probably don’t know me, but I appreciate you being on the board,” he said. “I’ve never gotten to talk to you personally about your thoughts on prayer.

“Dr. (Brian) Swords, you gave a statement last month about your dad taking you on a hike. I just didn’t quite understand the analogy with that and prayer.”

“Mrs. (Judy) Edwards, you said you don’t use the name of Jesus Christ in a prayer. There might be a time in which I pray and don’t use the name of Jesus Christ, but I’m talking to my Lord. But I’m not reading it out of a book with the purpose in mind not to say the name of Jesus. I really don’t think that’s a prayer that God hears.”

Anthony ended with a promise to the board.

“If one of you can get this back up, I will stand behind you,” Anthony said. “Please don’t let this thing die.”

In other business, Johnnelle Raines of the Pickens County Taxpayers Association told the school board the results of her organization’s petition drive.

The petition read “We, the citizens of Pickens County, petition the school board of trustees to vote no on any property tax millage increase.”

Raines said the survey covered approximately 1.73 percent of the population of Pickens County.

From those pollsters personally spoken with, Raines said there were around 30 people who said taxes needed to be raised or else their child’s school would be closed, or they believed teachers needed a raise or the children needed more supplies and better technology.

Many who favored a millage increase either worked in the school district or were related to someone who does, she said.

Raines said the petition drive showed people have a fear of retribution by the school board or employees of the school district.

Several people expressed the opinion that signing a petition would do no good, as official continue to build more schools without public approval.