A crowd attended the county School Board meeting Monday night to voice support for prayer in school.
A crowd attended the county School Board meeting Monday night to voice support for prayer in school.
The pledge of allegiance rang a little louder Monday night as more than 35 people packed into the meeting room of the Neshoba County School Board to voice their support for prayer in county schools.

Even after board president Davis Fulton welcomed the visitors and opened the meeting with prayer, the reason for the crowd, which included at least three local pastors, was not immediately clear, although by the end of the pledge of allegiance more people were standing outside the door.

However, when the board tried to close an otherwise uneventful meeting, they heard staunch objections from the crowd, who were then told they weren't on the agenda to speak.

One person in the crowd made it clear that they wanted prayer in their schools and wanted a chance to speak their mind.

"We know we need a new school building, we want prayer back in the schools," one person said.

The crowd was objecting to the school board's decision to not allow prayer over the intercom after several organizations raised objections earlier citing a federal law.

One man in the crowd threatened that they would not let the board leave until they were given an opportunity to talk.

County School Board Attorney Robert Thomas said that there is a legal way School Board meetings must be held and at the time they could not take any more public comment. Anyone who wanted to make a comment is free to sign on the sign-in sheet put out 30 minutes before the meeting or schedule a time to speak in advance, he said.

One woman in the crowd said that she did not regularly attend board meetings and many of the people in the crowd were unfamiliar with board procedure.

School Board Vice President Johnny Crenshaw told the crowd that the policy was online.

Another member, Shan Winstead, added that his "door is wide open" at his body shop and all the board members would gladly take time out of their days to take calls or answer questions from concerned people in the school district.

Winstead added that prayer could be student led and that they had to stop having prayer led by faculty or over the school intercom in compliance with federal law.

"No one on this board voted to remove prayer," Winstead said. "Prayer can be student led before school. I as a parent have to encourage my child to take the lead."

He said that a complaint was filed on a federal level.

When asked if they were fighting it, Thomas said that they will not fight the case.

He said Rankin public schools fought a similar battle and lost.

Thomas said the school would be fined $10,000 per prayer if they continued, but they are open to suggestions for alternatives to keep prayer in the school without violating the federal guidelines.

Superintendent Tommy Dearing said that they had several organizations which complained and informed them that they were breaking federal law.

"We are not allowed to have prayer over the intercom or that is faculty led, but we encourage our students to organize morning prayers and devotionals," Dearing said. "We encourage our students to take the lead on this."

The Rev. Curt Pace of New Bethel Baptist Church was one of two people who were signed in to speak. He offered support for the bond issue to build the new school building and said Congress opens each session with prayer, which is put into the Congressional Record.

"It cannot be unconstitutional to read from the Congressional Record," Pace said.

He said that these prayers are archived online and would hold valuable lessons beyond their religious significance including lessons in civics and history.

Prayers are archived as far back as the first meeting of the Continental Congress in 1774 at chaplain.house.gov.

"That is something we are going to check up on," Dearing said.

The Rev. Chester Carlisle of Grace Baptist Church in Philadelphia ended the gathering in prayer, saying, "Let's do what we have been talking about."

He prayed for wisdom and direction for the board and encouraged parents to "teach their children."