Glen Rose ISD has had, for some years, a practice of having one of the elected school board members offer up an invocation at the beginning of school board meetings. Doing so has been blatantly unconstitutional for some time, but most particularly since the Town of Greece v Galloway SCOTUS decision in 2014. At some point, GRISD school board, probably in 2017, decided to ask local ministers to come offer invocations, but still occasionally has had school board members do the prayer.
I asked in 2017 to be able to offer an invocation as well at the beginning of board meetings. I received back a reply from Wayne Rotan, superintendent of Glen Rose Independent School District on July 13, 2017. In it, he said
In response to your request to offer the invocation at a meeting of the Glen Rose ISD Board of Trustees, there is no board policy regarding the leading of the invocation. The procedures that are utilized limit persons leading the invocation to members of the Somervell County Minister's Fellowship or members of the Glen Rose ISD Board of Trustees.
I am unable to honor your request at this time. In the event of a procedural change, I will be certain to contact you.
I was quite busy for awhile but as I pondered the response, I wondered, since there was no policy, what the procedures were, who decided them, on what basis and what discussion. I did an open records request on June 20 2018
In a letter sent to me by Wayne Rotan on July 13, 2017, Mr. Rotan makes reference to “procedures that are utilized limit persons leading the invocation to members of the Somervell County Minister’s Fellowship or members of the Glen Rose ISD Board of Trustees”.
I am requesting copies of the procedures document(s) referenced above, any emails from Wayne Rotan or any board members referencing invocations or prayers, or referencing the Somervell County Minister’s Fellowship. Adding that I assume a list exists of the people on the Somervell County Minister’s Fellowship that someone at the school has; I would also like to see that list.
I received back a reply on Jun 29, 2018.
Per your request received 6/20/2018 for "copies of the procedure document(s) (reference in letter from Wayne Rotan dated July 13, 2017) any emails from Wayne Rotan or any board members referencing invocations or prayers or referencing the Somervell County Minister's Fellowship", there are no records responsive to your request.
Per your request for a list of people on the Somervell County Minister's Fellowhip, please see the included list of ministers of the Somervell County Minister's Fellowship that the school utlizes for invocations. This was the only document responsive to your request.
So, somehow magically, with no procedure (although Rotan had said there was a procedure), a minister shows up to do an invocation at a school board meeting with no communication with anyone at the school, including school board members.
I had called and spoken with a minister that is a member of the Somervell County Minister's Fellowship. He told me that someone had circulated a list last year and asked if there was anyone who wanted to go do a prayer at the school board. He also indicated that the person starting this list may be one that is no longer in this community. I asked that person if he specifically was in touch with any board members or if there was some procedure they followed, and the only thing he really knew about was the list, which, again, had ministers who voluntarily listed their names as willing to come.
According to the document Mr Rotan sent, the listing of churches was prepared by Kent Barnes. He is apparently an associate minister at First Baptist Church in Glen Rose.
With the SCOTUS turning down hearing the Lund v Rowan Co NC case, which means that having prayers done by elected officials is unconstitutional, seems to me that would also mean that any time, say, Andy Snow, board member, did an invocation, he was thumbing his nose at the constitution.
Also wondered, since this list is, as told to me, an old list that hasn't been updated, are there ministers that are not on this list that have done invocations at the school board meeting?
Here are the people on this list
Frank Eshbach, Joe Scalisi, James Oliver, Horatio Berrnoes, John Roof, Kent Barnes, John Ferrer, Paul Burton, John Turner, Joe Phillips, Mary Mercer, Rinda Denson, and Phillip Voss.
So, comparing for 2017 and 2018 who has done the invocations and if they are on the list.
- March 27 2017- Dennis Moore is not on this list
- April 20, 2017- Andy Snow is an elected board member and obviously not on the list.
- June 2017- Andy Snow is an elected board member
- August 28 2017- Lydenburg (or Lineberg) not on the list
- Sep 28 2017- Dennis Moore not on the list
- Oct 23 2017- Steven Yuille not on the list
- March 26, 2016- Bill French not on the list
- May 29, 2018- Andy Snow, board member
Going back to what Mr Rotan said to me in email on two separate occasions. First, that people doing the invocation are limited to a particular group, but not based on any board policy or procedure. SOMEONE had to decide this and this is not happening by osmosis. This lack of procedure not only defies credulity but is utterly and completely against the sense of the SCOTUS Supreme Court ruling in Town of Greece v Galloway in which the court said, in part
p 5 of the decision (on the PDF) "Following the roll call and recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, Auberger would invite a local clergyman to the front of the room to deliver an invocation. ,,, The town eventually compiled a list of willing "board chaplains" who had accepted invitations and agree to return in the future. The town at no point excluded or denied an opportunity to a would be prayer giver. Its leaders maintained that a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist, could give the invocation. "
"By welcoming many viewpoints, the District Court concluded, the town would be unlikely to give the impression that it was affiliating itself with any one religion.
The Court of Appeals "found it relevant that guest clergy sometimes spoke on behalf of all present at the meeting, as by saying "Let us pray" or by asking audience members to stand and bow their heads. "The invitation... to participate in the prayer.. placed audience members who are nonreligious or adherents of non-Christian religion in the awkward position of either participating in prayers invoking beliefs they did not share or appearing to show disrespect for the invocation". That board members bowed their heads or made the sign of the cross further conveyed the message that the town endorsed Christianity. .. The Court now reverses the judgement of the Court of Appeals.
... Congress continues to permit its appointed and visiting chaplains to express themselves in a religious idiom. It acknowledges our growing diversity not by proscribing sectarian content but by welcoming ministers of many creeds. ... The Court instructed that the 'content of the prayer is not of concern to judges' provided "there is no indication that the prayer opportunity has been exploited to prosletyze or advance any one, or to disparage any other faith or belief.' To hold that invocations must be nonsectarian would force the legislatures that sponsor prayers and the courts that are asked to decide these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech, a rule that owuld involve government in religious matter to a far greater degree... Our Government is prohibited from prescribing prayers to be recited in our public institutions.... The First Amendment is not a majority rule and government may not seek to define permissible categories of religious speech. Once it invites prayer into the public sphere, government must permit a prayer giver to address his or her own God or gods as conscience dictates, unfettered by what an administrator or judge considers to be nonsectarian.
In rejecting the suggestion that legislative prayer must be nonsectarian, the Court does not imply that no constraints remain on its content. The relevant constraint derives from its place at the opening of legislative sessions, where it is meant to lend gravity to the occasion and reflect values long part of the Nation's heritage. Prayer that is solemn and respectful in tone, that invites lawmakers to reflect upon shared ideals and common ends before they embark on the fractious business of governing, serves that legitimate function. If the course and practice over time shows that the invocations denigrate nonbelievers or religious minorities, threaten damnation, or preach conversion, many present may consider the prayer to fall short of the desire to elevate the purpose of the occasion and to unite lawmakers in their common effort. That circumstance would present a different case than the one presently before the Court.
It is thus possible to discern in the prayers offered to Congress a commonality of theme and tone. While these prayers vary in their degree of religiousity, they often seek peace for the Nation, wisdom for its lawmakers, and justice for its people, values that count as universal and that are embodied not only in religious traditions, but in our founding documents and laws. ... Our tradition assumes that adult citizens, firm in their own beliefs, can tolerate and perhaps appreciate a ceremonial prayer delivered by a person of a different faith. .. So long as the town maintains a policy of nondiscrimination, the Constitution does not require it to search beyond its borders for non-Christian prayer givers in an effort to achieve religious balancing.
And yet that is what Glen Rose ISD is doing. By creating a list and indicating that ONLY people on that list may offer an invocation, they are violating the constitution. As a side note, a case in which North Carolina county commissioners were offering prayer from the dais, in the same way that Andy Snow does, was appealed to the US Supreme Court and denied the other day, leaving the practice as decided by the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals as unconstitutional.
And, more on that list, GRISD isn't even consistent. Here I am, someone who wants to participate and find out about that list, but instead I find out it is outdated, and the list is not even, according to Rotan, maintained at the school level. The fact that there are 2 categories of *allowed* iinvocation givers indicates that someone at GRISD MUST have an expanded list, if only in someone's head, since it not only includes this SMF but also board members. But, on the list I received, which I was told from the SMF side hadn't even been updated, there are a number of people who gave the invocation but were NOT ON THE LIST. Did anyone check? Was it that someone that wanted to give the prayer walked up before the meeting and said "Hey, I'm here to do it" and the board president simply got the name? That in itself is a procedure, if that's what happens. Remember again what Town of Greece v Galloway said
Following the roll call and recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, Auberger would invite a local clergyman to the front of the room to deliver an invocation. ,,, The town eventually compiled a list of willing "board chaplains" who had accepted invitations and agree to return in the future. The town at no point excluded or denied an opportunity to a would be prayer giver. Its leaders maintained that a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist, could give the invocation. "
Glen Rose ISD and Wayne Rotan are not only being grossly discrimatory about this practice at government meetings but also showing disrespect for the Constitution of the United States. Schools have not only a duty to teach United States Civics but also to do so accurately in order to create an informed populace. How can this be done if, at the school board level, those in charge of said schools ignore or subvert the very constitution that governs our country and, along with that, teach and show discrimination.
I am going to ask Wayne Rotan again, based on his responses to me via the last open records request, to allow me to offer an invocation at the school board meeting, in the same way that others that are not on the list and are not governmed by any written procedures, can do so.