Charleston Co. School Board approves initial reading of policy change on prayer

The Charleston County School Board has passed the first reading of a policy change regarding prayer at school board meetings.
Published: Feb. 27, 2023 at 11:58 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 28, 2023 at 2:52 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

EDITOR’S NOTE: The initial version of this story did not clarify that the school board approved the first reading of a potential change to school board policy that allows for school board members to volunteer to open special or regular school board meetings with a prayer. The policy must pass a second reading before it is officially adopted. The initial version of the story also misidentified the former previous board chair, the Rev. Eric Mack.

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Charleston County School District approved the first reading of a chance to the policy involving school board meetings that would allow a school board member a policy to volunteer to open special and regular board meetings with a prayer.

The board voted 5-4 to pass the initial reading, but the first passage did not come without concerns.

The revision to Policy BC stipulates that board members may volunteer to open special and regular board meetings with a prayer, but that the prayer must comply with state law and the Fourth Circuit of Appeals Case Wynne v. Town of Great Falls:

  • The prayer or invocation must be nonsectarian
  • The prayer of invocation may only reference “God” or “The Almighty”
  • The prayer or invocation may not invoke one religion in preference of others.
  • The prayer or invocation must be directed only at the board members themselves.
  • The prayer or invocation must preclude public business and not be a part of public business.

School board member Ed Kelley was for the vote.

“It brings the policy in line with what the current practice was or the previous practice was with the previous board, where Rev. Mack occasionally opened up board meetings with a prayer for someone in the district or a teacher or student who had passed or for the board members before making decisions, things like that,” Kelley said.

Board member Dr. Carol Tempel shared her thoughts about the policy prior to the board’s official vote. She says she feels the setting is not appropriate.

“It’s founded in the principles that I believe in. One is the separation of church and state, and I thought that this policy was unnecessary because as individuals we can pray wherever we want to pray,” Tempel said.

Kelley argues the policy is inclusive and doesn’t focus on one denomination.

“We’re not invoking a particular religion, it’s not in the name of God or in the name of Buddha,” Kelley said. “The state law requires very specific, nonsectarian parameters around the invocation, and this is very standard.”

Tempel doesn’t fully agree.

“Mentions God. Mentions Almighty God, but there are religions that wouldn’t recognize those terms,” she said. “So, I don’t think it’s as inclusive as we might think it is. And I’ve seen figures where 32% of the people in the Charleston area are not religious. So, I think that we just needed to honor the diversity and the pluralism in our community.”

The policy revision must pass a second reading before it can be officially adopted, Charleston County School District spokesman Andy Pruitt said.

There is no specific date set for a second reading, but it could come at the next school board meeting.