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    Citrus County School Board ignores effort to discuss prayer

    By BARBARA BEHRENDT

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 14, 2001


    INVERNESS -- After months of debate, the Citrus County School Board on Tuesday decided to deal with the issue of opening its meetings with a prayer by simply not dealing with it.

    No changes were made in the board's practice of allowing its members to lead the opening prayer however they choose.

    Although board member Carol Snyder had requested that the issue be placed on Tuesday's agenda for discussion and a decision, Chairwoman Patience Nave declined to do so.

    Board member Sandra "Sam" Himmel opened the meeting with a prayer addressed to "gracious and loving God," and then the board adopted the agenda. Snyder sought to add the prayer issue, saying the issue of when clubs could meet in schools had been settled through administrative guidelines but the prayer issue had not. But no board member would second Snyder's motion.

    Later in the meeting, Snyder made a motion that the board open meetings with a moment of silent reflection. Although there was applause from the audience, the motion also died for the lack of a second. Snyder told the board members to remember that, if they face legal action over the issue, their choice to not approve her motion would be a contributing factor.

    Board member Pat Deutschman took issue with the continuing debate.

    "We have been assaulted by articles in the paper, by the threats of lawsuits . . . the recurring remarks we all five of us have misled students," she said. Deutschman placed the blame for confusion about the issues squarely on Snyder.

    The prayer issue has been hotly debated by the board and the community since Snyder asked the board in November to consider changing its policy of making nearly all the meetings' opening prayers overtly Christian.

    Deutschman said that students spoke to the correct issues at last month's board workshop and that the board had no right to censor what was said there. At that meeting, nearly two dozen students, many in tears, pleaded with the board not to do away with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, even though no attempt to do so had ever been raised by the board.

    No formal action on prayer could be taken at that time because the session was a workshop and not a regular meeting.

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