The following is the new “invocation” disclaimer added by the Polk County (Florida) School Board to all meeting agendas:
“Voluntary invocation may be offered before the opening of the School Board meeting by a private citizen. The views or beliefs expressed in the invocation have not been reviewed nor approved by the School Board, and the Board is not allowed, by law, to endorse the religious beliefs or views of this, or any other speaker.”
The addition of the disclaimer comes after the attorney for the school board, Wes Bridges, received a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The organization threatened a lawsuit if the members of the school board continued to include prayers in its meetings. The disclaimer helps to ensure that the school board is not working to promote or to establish any type of religion.
If the school board were to face the lawsuit, it could cost the school board up to $500,000 in legal fees to fight the lawsuit and even more if the school board loses the legal fight. As a way to bridge the gap, Bridges used the aforementioned disclaimer and to allow these types of prayers to only occur prior to the start of the meeting, which officially begins at the sound of the gavel dropping.
Bridges states that it is not unconstitutional for a school board to have invocations, but this disclaimer helps ensure the school board is not stepping outside of the laws otherwise. He proposed other options for avoiding the litigation as well, but this is the remedy the school board decided upon.
The Vice Chairman of the School Board, Tim Harris, stated that he was concerned with why the school board was the target of the Freedom From Religion Foundation when state legislators and Congress open meetings with prayers as well.