Texas school district criticized for prayer at staff event

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MCKINNEY, Texas (AP) — A nonprofit has criticized a school district in northeast Texas for leading a prayer during a mandatory staff assembly.

Three people, including a district employee, filed complaints with the Freedom From Religion Foundation after McKinney Independent School District’s August assembly, where district Superintendent Rick McDaniel led the group in prayer, The Dallas Morning News reported . Officials of the nonprofit said the district violated its obligation to remain neutral on religious matters.

The establishment clause of the First Amendment bans public schools from endorsing religion, said Dale Carpenter, a law professor at Southern Methodist University. People are allowed to pray on their own in public school settings.

“But when someone in an official capacity takes that role at the beginning of a required event, that does raise potential issues under the establishment clause,” Carpenter said.

The foundation is looking for clear actions from the district to address the concerns, said Sam Grover, an attorney for the foundation. He said the foundation will consult with the employee who filed the complaint to consider legal options if the district doesn’t take action.

The nonprofit previously has criticized the district for holding its annual assembly at Prestonwood Baptist Church.

The district has held the assembly at the church for more than a decade because it doesn’t have room for the roughly 3,000 employees who attend the event, said Cody Cunningham, a spokesman for the district. The district has also held numerous graduation ceremonies at the church.

The district is constructing a nearly $70 million stadium and event center, where next year’s assembly will likely be held, McDaniel said.

School board trustees met Tuesday to discuss the nonprofit’s concerns.

Board president Curtis Rippee declined to comment on any discipline McDaniel may face, citing personnel reasons. He also said the board doesn’t have an official position on the superintendent’s use of prayer.