A few weeks ago, the Mesa School Board looked at their policy for prayer in public board meetings and recognized a need for a change. Since then, they have sought legal counsel, listened to input from the community, and worked to formulate a more appropriate policy. Beginning school board meetings with prayer is an honored tradition in Mesa, long upheld and appreciated by the community. Likewise, the Supreme Court has noted that beginning public meetings of deliberative bodies with prayer is a part of the fabric of our society. This valued tradition should be reincorporated into board meetings. Doing so shows respect for the founders of our nation.
In Arizona, prayer has been a part of public meetings for more than 100 years. In 1910, the Arizona Constitutional Convention was opened with an invocation and our State Legislature has opened with prayer since statehood. Mesa City Council Meetings and Mesa School Board Meetings have also begun with prayer since their earliest beginnings.
An appropriate policy for beginning board meetings with prayer ought to show respect for the diverse perspectives of the community. The opportunity to offer an invocation ought to be opened up to any and all faiths represented in the district. The newly proposed policy will do so. Such a policy provides the opportunity to invite members of the community who may not otherwise attend school board meetings. They will have the chance to learn more about what is happening in Mesa schools and how they can get involved. Greater community involvement in schools will benefit all students.
Beginning a meeting with prayer helps set the tone of the deliberations to follow. It solemnizes the proceedings, encourages a sense of cooperation, and is a means of expressing confidence in the future and recognition for that which is worthy of appreciation in society. Those who wish not to participate are always allowed to refrain. Certainly there is a need for mutual respect for those of all faiths and beliefs. School board meetings ought to be a place where tolerant, respectful behavior is modeled and promoted.
The founding fathers, authors of the Constitution, began their public meetings with prayer both before and after ratification of the Constitution. The Supreme Court and our founding fathers recognize the value of elected officials seeking divine guidance and wisdom when making decisions that affect the entire community. School board members ought to be as free as the founders to take advantage of such guidance and wisdom. With the daunting task of educating the children of the community resting on their shoulders, they can use all the help they can get. Heaven knows they need it!
Written by Michelle Udall, current Mesa School Board member.