Administrators at New Hampshire’s Concord High School told a mother of two students she could no longer pray and read scripture on the schoolhouse steps in the morning, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader.
Lizarda Urena, an anti-bullying activist, started praying at the school after someone found bullets in the school bathroom. Superintendent Christine Rath said Urena would not be allowed to resume praying in the fall after the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation complained.
“We sent an open records request to the school district, asking them for copies of any meeting minutes or any sort of documents which gave this woman permission to pray on school property,” Rebecca Markert, a Freedom From Religion Foundation staff attorney told the Union Leader.
Rath responded a few days later: “There is no document giving Ms. Urena permission to pray on school property.”
Matthew Sharp, general counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), said students know the mother and should be able to recognize that the school is not mandating the prayer, adding that the mother’s speech is protected under the First Amendment. The director of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union disagreed, arguing that by allowing her to stay, the school could be considered as sponsoring her speech.
School board members supported Rath’s decision. Asking Urena to stop praying is not a restriction of her religious rights, they said.
“To be fair to all the kids in the school, it is probably best for the principal to say that she shouldn't be speaking out like this and proselytizing on school grounds,” School Board President Kassandra Ardinger said. “The best mode of action was to tell her to cool it.”
ADF has not decided whether it will take up Urena’s case and press the issue in court, but Sharp said, “What this mother is doing is carrying on one of the great American traditions.”