Praying Mom May Sue Concord Schools

The mother who made a habit of preaching at students (she calls it praying) on the school steps as they came to school and was told she could no longer do that may sue the school system in Concord, New Hampshire. She’s now being represented by the ADF:

Urena began praying out loud on steps outside the school in February after bullets were found in a school toilet. She read verses from the Bible but never physically interfered with students on their way into the building. Last month, after the district received inquiries and complaints about her actions, Principal Gene Connolly told Urena she could no longer pray on campus. One complaint came from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which said her praying violated the separation of church and state.

Matthew Sharp, general counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, said yesterday the group has not filed a lawsuit and is still determining how to move forward. The group provides all legal services pro bono.

“We think the facts in this one really matter,” Sharp said. “She was (praying) passively. I think she was providing a great example there of just a mother that is passionate about wanting what’s best for her kids.”

Sharp argues that Urena’s speech is protected under the First Amendment and that the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s assertion that her praying violates the separation of church and state is “blatantly false.”

And if she were Muslim or atheist and doing the same thing, would that still be their position? Not a chance in hell.

Comments

  1. eric says

    Sharp argues that Urena’s speech is protected under the First Amendment

    Sure, if she’s on a public sidewalk and not blocking the flow of traffic. School property? Not so much.

  2. raven says

    Sharp argues that Urena’s speech is protected under the First Amendment ….

    I can see how this would catch on as a Youtube fad.

    1. A Voodoo or Santeria priest kills a chicken on the school steps every day.

    2. A Wiccan priestess cast a protective spell over the school every day.

    3. A Moslem Mullah prays to Allah.

    4. A Hindu prays to Brahma.

    5. The Hare Krishnas dance and chant.

    6. The JW’s hand out Watchtower magazines.

    7. The atheists do….what? I’m drawing a blank here. I suppose they just videotape the others and post them on Youtube with humorous commentary.

    Hmmm, I can see one drawback to being an atheist. No silly rituals to perform in public places to irritate and amuse everyone else.

    After a while, the Concord schools would cease to educate kids. They would just be a forum for religious themed performance art. Oh well, other than producing illiterate adults, what is the downside here?

  3. tubi says

    @eric #1

    Exactly. The school has an obligation to monitor and control everything that occurs on their property. The ADF is, unsurprisingly, incorrect.

    @raven @2

    We could do the Harlem Shake. Or just read aloud speeches by Robert Ingersoll.

  4. says

    Ugh. This is my home town. But as I understand it, free speech is not protected in any area you are legally compelled to be in, such as a public school. I remember this argument from a successful suit against a city hall’s religious propaganda, but can’t recall if it was the winning argument. The argument was that you had to go to city hall to pay taxes, so they couldn’t use that opportunity to preach at you.

  5. Synfandel says

    …just a mother that is passionate about wanting what’s best for her kids.

    If that’s what she is and this is the way she chooses to express that passion, perhaps she should do it at home with “her kids” rather than on school grounds with everyone else’s kids.

  6. raven says

    The schools in my district strictly limit access to those who have to be there, teachers, admin. and students.

    This is part of a security plan. They don’t want to make it easy for just anyone to walk in with guns and kill a few dozen kids.

    And it has actually worked once. One guy who tried to gain access turned out to be a pedophile who had just been released from prison. For stalking kids at a school.

  7. zmidponk says

    My understanding (which may very well be incorrect) is that, assuming she has no other connection with the school than being a parent of a student there, her speech is only protected if she is doing her praying/preaching on public property outside the school, but if she is actually on school property, not only is the school perfectly entitled to tell her to sod off, failing to do so could even be argued to be the school endorsing her praying/preaching, as people are typically only allowed on school property if they have some specific, legitimate reason for being there, even if they’re parents of students at the school, and saying ‘to preach at students’ is a legitimate reason would be endorsing that conduct.

  8. raven says

    Nothing is stopping this woman from casting protective spells around the school, i.e xian spells by praying.

    It shouldn’t matter where she does it though.

    The xians claim their god is everywhere and knows everything, that all powerful bit. She could be on Mars and he would hear, supposedly. If god isn’t as powerful as a GPS device or cell phone, then why call it god?

    She is practicing magic without any understanding of how xian magic should work.

  9. eric says

    tubi:

    The ADF is, unsurprisingly, incorrect.

    Well, they have yet to file a suit, so they may understand the situation correctly and just be doing a bit of PR theater. It wouldn’t suprise me if this was a stall tactic while they try and figure out a way to portray ‘my client will obey the law in the future’ as a win.

    Donovan:

    But as I understand it, free speech is not protected in any area you are legally compelled to be in, such as a public school.

    That’s an argument for limiting student free speech. In this case, (IANAL but) I think its much more cut and dried. She’s on government property. She’s not an employee or other “user” of the facility, and its not an open facility where the public is allowed to use it. So she basically has very little right to be there in the first place.

    The school could make their steps a limited public forum, I suppose. But if they say it isn’t, then their property is just the same as any other government office building.

  10. iknklast says

    We had a case in our town where a street preacher was screaming at and haranguing female students at a local college, praying, preaching, and otherwise interfering with them as they went to class. He was clearly a public nuisance, but he was on the sidewalk outside the school, which is public property. The school persuaded the city to arrest him on disturbing the peace charges. He filed suit, and won (or settled – I think it didn’t go to court). The city got rid of their disturbing the peace ordinance as part of the settlement, so he is now free to verbally abuse young women.

    Now, if he went on the school property, since it’s a private college, they could run him off because he would be trespassing. But as long as he is on city property, he’s protected.

  11. Larry says

    I didn’t realize praying had such a short proximity affect. You need to say your mumbo jumbo right next to the concrete walls of the school rather than 100 yards away from the street, or a couple of miles away in your own home. Something tells me it was more about lookatme than what was being mumbled.

  12. Synfandel says

    She could be on Mars and he would hear, supposedly.

    Yes, but any action that God took in response to her prayer on Mars that affected the school on Earth would be delayed by some period between four and twenty minutes, depending on the relative positions of Earth and Mars, because otherwise the relativistic prohibition against action at a distance faster than the speed of light would be violated.

  13. matty1 says

    I really don’t understand why she didn’t just move outside the school gates. If she was doing the same thing described, reading a book out loud and chanting spells on the public highway then they couldn’t stop her unless she blocks traffic or makes too much noise.

  14. Synfandel says

    I really don’t understand why she didn’t just move outside the school gates.

    She clearly craves attention and probably also enjoys controversy. Pushing to be allowed to preach on the school’s doorstep is giving her both in spades. Compliantly moving to the public sidewalk would give her less of both. It’s not about piety; it’s about making people notice her.

  15. John Pieret says

    You need to say your mumbo jumbo right next to the concrete walls of the school rather than 100 yards away from the street, or a couple of miles away in your own home. Something tells me it was more about lookatme than what was being mumbled.

    I suspect the rationale is that there are “bad” kids in the school (since bullets were found in a bathroom) and the important thing to her is that the kids hear the word of dog and will be thereby magically transformed into good, dog-fearing citizens.

  16. Moggie says

    She was (praying) passively.

    Well then, the solution is obvious: silent prayer. Her god is supposed to be able to hear that, and approves.

  17. whheydt says

    Hmmm… I suppose an atheist could read selected passages from the Bible… Lot’s Daughters, prohibited stuff from Leviticus, selections from the Song of Solomon, various and sundry Yahvist orders to slaughter populations….especially the ones that specify sparing specific sub-groups and what you’re allowed to do with those spared… Lots of juicy stuff in the Bible.

  18. grumpyoldfart says

    They’re good little lawsuits.

    * If you win; whacko, praise the lord.
    * And if you lose you can play the martyr card – which is as good as a win.

    Don’t expect the routine to change any time soon.

  19. otrame says

    I think she was providing a great example there of just a mother that is passionate about wanting what’s best for her kids.”

    I suspect her kids are mortified, as all kids that age are by parents, even if their parents aren’t making a public fuss. I also, of course, deny that praying on the school steps is actually accomplishing anything but making the prayer feel all special.

    However, I am all for her praying her little heart out–as long as she is standing a least a foot off of school property.

  20. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    @2 Raven, if she wins, that would be an excellent idea.

    Back in the 60s, my SO’s highschool district admins got the hare-brained idea that there should be “a prayer” … they tippy-toed around the idea of stating what prayer, and some of the teachers responded by starting with an Ode to Odin, the Hymn to Aten, and a bunch of other prayers. They were working theur way down the alphabet of Gods when the district canceled the project.

  21. says

    I didn’t realize praying had such a short proximity affect. You need to say your mumbo jumbo right next to the concrete walls of the school rather than 100 yards away from the street, or a couple of miles away in your own home. Something tells me it was more about lookatme than what was being mumbled.

    Unfortunately, a lot of the “buff” spells have a range of “touch” so . . .

  22. magistramarla says

    So, how legal are the “meet you at the pole” prayer groups?
    When I was teaching, there was a large group of teachers and students who met every Friday and surrounded the flag pole at the entrance to the school, loudly praying and singing hymns. A few teachers tried to invite me to join them, and then gave me dirty looks when I refused.
    We also had problems with those awful prayer chain e-mails being sent over the school e-mail system. This was against district policy, but no one dared to report them, since most of them originated with the principal’s secretary or the head counselor’s secretary. The chain was always broken when it arrived in my inbox – I simply hit Delete.

  23. says

    She… she DOES know that a protection spell doesn’t need to be cast at the location you want to protect, yeah?

    Also, Christian magic is no more effective than any other magic — it’s a big fat psychological prop.

  24. Suido says

    She read verses from the Bible but never physically interfered with students on their way into the building.

    Ah, the classic defense of children who are verbally baiting their siblings/peers – I never touched them!

  25. dogmeat says

    I really don’t understand why she didn’t just move outside the school gates.

    Actually that likely wouldn’t work. Given that the students are required to attend, they become a captive audience. Because of that, again, the state has a compelling interest to have her move along and not infringe upon the rights of the students. Somewhat similar case occurred with a street preacher and kids at a bus stop.

    So, how legal are the “meet you at the pole” prayer groups?

    I’m not an expert, but my understanding is that with school groups it is supposed to be the kids leading the group, prayer, etc. When it comes to the flagpole events, they aren’t allowed to block access to the school, etc. I’m fairly certain that teachers and staff, much like coaches when players opt to pray, aren’t supposed to participate. It’s supposed to be kids having the opportunity to follow their faith as they see fit. How often teachers and staff follow that? *shrug*

  26. eric says

    To add to what dogmeat says, my understanding is that the ‘meet me at the pole’ events ask permission of the administration to use the area. IOW, there is at least a tacit acknowledgement that the administration could let other people use the “pole area” if they requested it.

    Ms. Urena has been asked to stop. So if she sues, her argument must be that she doesn’t need their permission to use the location to pray.

  27. says

    The woman is an attention whore, plain and simple.

    @2:

    Pull out ALL of the stops, dude:

    Kali, Moloch, Baal, assorted Mesoamerican dieties; NOTHING says, “I loves me some GOD!”, like ritual murder of sacrificial victims. Ripping the still-beating hearts out of the chests of the losing football team and the Homecoming King and Queen runners-up could be an enormously impressive teaching moment.

    “To add to what dogmeat says, my understanding is that the ‘meet me at the pole’ events…”

    Strippers for JESUS? I’m wit ya on dat.

  28. Synfandel says

    She was (praying) passively.

    She was reading passages from the Bible and I highly doubt that she was doing it silently. How is this passive prayer and in what way does it differ from active prayer? Prayer wasn’t happening to her; she was doing it.

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