St. John School Board to keep meditation

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 16, 2005


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE- Though the subject of prayer before board meetings has been a hot-button issue in the schools of Louisiana in recent weeks, it is not likely to cause much ado at the upcoming St. John the Baptist Parish school board meeting.

Since U.S. District Court Judge Ginger Berrigan has ruled school board meetings opening with prayers as unconstitutional under the first amendment, many have spoken out against the decision.

The recent Louisiana School Board Association convention in Alexandria made national news when they started their meeting with prayers in light of the ruling that barred Tangipahoa Parish from doing the same.

The convention, held March 3-5, came right after the board of directors of LSBA voted to file a “friend-of-the-court” brief to support the appeal of Tangipahoa Parish School Board.

The ruling was brought about by a suit filed by a parent against the Tangipahoa School Board.

W.F. “Freddie” Whitford, executive director of LSBA, as well as Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, have made public statements that show support of prayer before the meetings and a staunch opposition to Judge Berrigan’s decision.

“We’re going to the mat on this one,” Whitford said. “We totally disagree with this judge.”

However, the St. John Parish school board does not open with a prayer, but a silent meditation that, according to Board President Gerald Keller, does not pertain to any religious denomination.

Keller believes that since the ruling does not affect their having a moment of silence, it is simply not being discussed as it is in other parishes.

“I hear no sentiment from the (St. John) board members,” Keller said. He added that many of the members have strong religious convictions.

Since the ruling most school boards that have had meetings have not stopped the opening prayer.

At the Tangipahoa meeting, there were reportedly prayer circles held outside the building, and several the meeting shouted the words “under God” during the Pledge of Allegiance.

The attitude of St. John Parish sounds much more sedate so far.

“If they want me to stop (the meditation), I’ll stop,” Keller said. “But if they tell me it’s okay, we’ll just keep doing it.”