GRIFFITH — The Griffith School Board will no longer open its meetings with a prayer, a long-standing tradition usually offered by one of the local pastors.
It will instead observe a moment of silence.
"It was considered indoctrination of young people into a certain religion," board attorney Joe Svetanoff said.
He said he attended a meeting of the Indiana School Board Association a couple of years ago where opening prayers were discussed.
He said Indiana and federal courts have recently said it is OK to begin a town council meeting with a prayer but not a school board meeting.
Last month, the board read and adopted a series of policies, but delayed the one about an opening prayer.
"We pulled it out because we needed to talk about it," said board President Kathy Ruesken. "It was just within a couple of days of us pulling that ... that I received a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation."
As a reaction to the court opinions and letter from that watchdog group, the board unanimously eliminated the prayer in favor of being neutral with a moment of silence so people can contemplate whatever they wish.
The letter was written by FFRF representative Joseph McDonald.
"A concerned district community member contacted FFRF to report that the board opens each of its meetings with a prayer, led by either a guest or a member of the board," McDonald wrote.
In urging the board to stop the practice, the letter said the opening prayer is unfair to those who do not share the same religious beliefs or are not religious at all.
The letter also criticized the board for conducting the prayer.
"No board member, however, should seek to impose his or her personal religious preferences on those in attendance at meetings," McDonald wrote.
He went on to say the opening prayer probably violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and that it places the school town in jeopardy of legal liability.
It asks the group be notified "at its earliest convenience" of the changes made to the board’s practice.
Ruesken said it was the board's intention "to do what is best for the district" and that is to amend the decades old practice of prayer before the commencing of the public meeting.
"It is wise to submit to rule of law that governs public school board policies. Henceforth we will practice a moment of silence."
In other business, Ruesken addressed a concern among high school seniors that their graduation ceremony will not be held on the football field.
"Yes, there will be an outdoor graduation on the football field," she said. "There will be a prom and there will be other end-of-the-year events that the seniors look forward to. We couldn’t be more happier."
Superintendent Michele Riise also reported that various heating/cooling projects will take place this summer throughout the school system.
School town history was also made in response to a student vote on whether to change the name of the joint facility that houses both the junior and senior students.
Riise said 585 students voted and the new name won by one vote, 293-292.
Instead of being called Griffith High School Middle School, the facility will now officially be known as Griffith Junior Senior High School.