Prayers recited at Berkeley Co. School Board meetings cause chaos

For the past three school board meetings some people have recited the Lord’s prayer during a designated moment of silence.
Published: Jun. 8, 2023 at 4:50 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 8, 2023 at 11:04 PM EDT
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BERKELEY COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - For the past three school board meetings some people have recited the Lord’s prayer during a designated moment of silence.

Sheryl Monk says she didn’t appreciate people talking over the moment of silence.

“Frankly, I don’t think they even need a moment of silence. But if you’re going to have a moment of silence, be silent. Just don’t push your religion on anyone else and I think this does all that,” Monk says.

Former Berkeley County School Board Member Ann Conder has been leading the prayer. She says the board used to open all meetings with the prayer up until 2016. In 2016, South Carolina leaders passed the Public Invocation Act. It says that prayer at public meetings must not “advance any one faith or belief, or coerce participation by observers.”

“For fear of legal repercussions, the board at that time made the decision to place on the agenda a moment of silence instead of the longstanding practice of opening prayer. I beseech you to reinstate that historical practice,” Conder said to the board during public comment at a recent meeting.

Conder went on to say that recent rulings reinforce the right to prayer openings if they are rooted in tradition.

“It is to invite God into our boardroom so that he will grant you righteous guidance as you make your decisions for our children and their education. We will not be silenced and we will continue to invite God into this boardroom,” Conder said at the comment podium.

At the third meeting when the prayer started, Monk says she interrupted the interruption, calling for the prayer to stop.

“It’s disrespectful for non-Christians who are there and it’s a moment of silence. It’s pretty simple,” Monk says. Video from the boardroom shows someone approach Monk and ask her if she needs to step out. Conder continued praying unapproached.

“She kept going, but security came over and grabbed me by the arm. As long as she keeps getting away with it, right, it’ll just continue,” Monk says.

A portion of board policy does address public participation.

“All regular board meetings are public meetings; however, a public meeting is not an open forum. Public participation is limited to the concerns of citizens section of the board meeting only. The board vests in its chairman or other presiding officer the authority to terminate the remarks of any individual when he/she does not adhere to the procedures established above.”

When asked to comment specifically about the altercation at the start of the last meeting, Conder gave a statement saying: “I just don’t feel I need to defend something that is a constitutional right, but most importantly a God given right.”

Monk says she wants to see the rules applied across the board and people respectfully participate in the education discussion.

“I’m an atheist now, but even when I did believe in the Christian God, I still felt the same way. I though government and Church should be this far apart,” Monk spread her hands wide as she explains her stance.

Berkeley County Board members have not yet responded to requests for comment about the incident.