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North Carolina Board of Education Replaces Prayer with Moment of Silence Before Meetings

November 5th, 2021

North Carolina Board of Education cut out-loud prayer in favor of moment of silence before meetings.
North Carolina Board of Education cut out-loud prayer in favor of a moment of silence before meetings.

The Brunswick County, North Carolina Board of Education recently marked a substantial change when the group declined to pray at the outset of its routine May meeting. The board had revised its prayer practice to the neutral and more constitutionally permissible “moment of silence” several months earlier.      

How the Case Arose

Brunswick County board members began their meetings for several years by requesting the audience stand while a designated member of the Board of Education led a Christian prayer that invoked the name of Christ. During the May, June, and July meetings, the board requested that the audience stand for a moment of silence. During this new tradition, board members come together while one chairman prays over the board but in a manner that is loud enough to be heard by the audience. In response to this moment of silence, the audience began reciting prayer during the silence at both the Board of Education’s June and July meetings. 

In 2020, the Freedom from Religion Foundation informed the Board of Education that its prayer at meetings was a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The Establishment Clause prohibits Congress from establishing a state religion. One of the most commonly prohibited activities under the Establishment Clause is passing any regulation that gives preference to or forces belief in any one religion. Because public schools receive government funding, they are subject to this law. The Foundation argued that using prayer in such a way indirectly ostracized a growing number of religious minorities as well as nonreligious individuals in the community. In response to this letter, the Board of Education continued praying at sessions for eight months. Subsequently, in November 2020 and January 2021, the Foundation sent follow-up letters. Then, in April 2021, the board responded to the Foundation that one minute of silence was implemented before the meeting.

Response to the Moment of Silence

Various responses to the school board and its implementation of the moment of silence have resulted. The Foundation first responded to the school board’s implementation of the moment of silence as a “victory.” The Foundation’s President then commented that while dropping the prayer was a great step, implementing a quiet prayer constituted the organization “thumbing its nose.”  The Foundation’s President also commented that while the Supreme Court has issued various rulings interpreting the Establishment Clause, the court has not yet issued an opinion on school prayer meetings even though various appellate courts have.

One member of the Brunswick County School Board has commented that he is against the removal of prayer in board meetings but noted that the board’s transition to quiet prayer is better than cutting out prayer altogether.

Following Religious Rights Issues

The required separation between church and state originates from the United States Constitution and its establishment clause. Despite the long-standing nature of these charges, each month there are still cases that test the exact boundaries of these regulations. By reading the Universal Life Church’s blog, you can remain up to date with the most noteworthy of these cases.

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