A Virginia school board reversed its decision to deny a parent’s request to pray during a public comment in August, now allowing the mother to pray during her allotted time.
The Suffolk School Board had previously told Angela Kilgore she couldn’t pray when she asked to do so during a meeting.
“We can’t do that,” said Board Chairman Tyron D. Riddick.
When Kilgore asked why, Riddick said, “That’s not what you signed up to do, ma’am.”
The board chair then asked her to return to her intended topic, but Kilgore asked, “To pray for our schools is not permitted?”
“That’s correct,” Riddick replied.
Kilgore’s legal representation, First Liberty Institute and Founding Freedoms Law Center, disagreed, arguing the board’s actions were unconstitutional.
“Chairman Riddick later explained that he believed allowing Ms. Kilgore to pray as part of her public comment would be unconstitutional,” the two law firms wrote in a joint letter to the board. “This understanding is mistaken. In fact, the Constitution prohibits the government from excluding religious expression from a public forum; it certainly does not require such censorship.”
In response to the joint letter, SPS wrote a letter to explain the school board’s position.
“The School Board’s policy of not allowing citizens to engage in expressive activities in the meeting area is narrowly tailored in pursuit of the School Board’s interest in maintaining civility and decorum during the public comment session of its public meetings,” SPS wrote. “However, citizens can engage in expressive activities out of the meeting area and corridors adjacent thereto.”
The FFLC followed up with another letter, demanding the school board to “cease further constitutional violations” and allow Kilgore to pray during her allotted time, according to Suffolk News-Herald.
“On the basis of the foregoing facts and law, it is important that this situation be promptly corrected for Ms. Kilgore,” the letter reads. “Therefore, we demand that, at a minimum, the Suffolk School Board communicate to Ms. Kilgore that she is permitted to use all or part of her designated public comment time to say a brief prayer.”
“Additionally, we strongly urge the Board to issue a formal statement clarifying that it will not violate citizens’ constitutional rights in this manner any further,” the letter continues.
In response, the board relented, saying Kilgore would be allowed to pray.
“After further legal review of the request by Mrs. Angela Kilgore and recent federal court cases regarding prayer and the exercise of First Amendment Rights in a limited public forum, it was determined that any impact on the School Board or Suffolk Public Schools would be negligible if she were allowed to pray during the public meeting; therefore, her request to pray was granted,” SPS said according to Suffolk News-Herald.
Victoria Cobb, president of FFLC, expressed satisfaction that the board acknowledged its error in discriminating against Kilgore’s religious speech.
“The government doesn’t get to disfavor or disallow religious speech over non-religious speech,” Cobb wrote in a press release according to Suffolk News-Herald.
“You were wrong by shutting me down,” Kilgore said, according to a press release from her legal representation. “You know it. I know it, and now everyone will know it.”
At the Nov. 10 board meeting, Kilgore recounted her battle with the board during her brief public comment before citing a Bible verse and praying.