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Clay County debates mandatory prayer before school board meetings

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Updated: 8/16/2013 9:06 pm
FLEMING ISLAND, Fla. -- There's a new battle over prayer beginning in the Clay County School District.

Praising a higher power is something you're sure to experience at the monthly school board meeting.

"In God we trust" is at the base of the public school district's logo.

"Prayer, recognizing a supreme being, there is no America without God," said Fred Gottshalk of Orange Park.

But the Rev. Harry Parrott, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, disagrees.

"I think it's very inappropriate and very unfortunate to open the meeting with an invocation or prayer that is sectarian prayers," said Parrott.

Right now, every board meeting starts with an invocation, which is often a prayer. But it's not on the books.

Board member Johnna McKinnon wants it to be a mandated ritual.

Clay County schools are no stranger to the issue. The district caught national attention after a local pastor organized daily morning prayer sessions on school property outside Clay Hill Elementary.

School officials debated the controversial topic Thursday in an attempt to solidify prayer's place within the district.

Parrott fears if prayer continues in meetings, it will soon slip into the classroom.

"I think the citizens of Clay County should be as worried about that as we are about this small issue of invocation and prayers at the beginning of these meetings," said Parrott.

But for Gottshalk, an Orange Park veteran, emotions are hard to contain when discussing the absence of prayer in public schools.

"The pilgrims said they came here to glorify God," said Gottshalk. "The Constitution is the foundation of this country."

A number of parents and citizens spoke out during public comment. The topic was debated for more than an hour but there was no vote. School officials will likely revisit the issue in October.
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