A New Hampshire woman who had prayed aloud outside a public school for several months is banned from delivering sermons on school property.
Lizarda Urena, a mother of two children who attend Concord High School, began reading prayers from the Bible on the steps of the school last February, after reports surfaced that two bullets had been found in a school toilet. Her prayers called for the safety of students and an end to gun violence, according to the Concord Monitor.
However, after receiving a letter of complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, school superintendent Christine Rath said Urena’s prayers must stop. The organization, which works to maintain the separation of church and state, said that by allowing Urena to pray on school property, the district was implicitly promoting a specific point of view.
“It is the duty of the secular public school system to protect vulnerable children, not to expose them to pressure and prayers,” the letter states. “The exercise of religion must be left to the individual and religious education left to the family.”
“She was going to the school daily and perching herself on the top of the stairs directly in front of the entrance of the school and praying aloud to the students,” FFRF attorney Rebecca Market told The Huffington Post of the situation.
The New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union says Rath is making the right decision by banning Urena from praying on school property. In contrast, lawyers from conservative advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom argue that stopping Urena violates her First Amendment rights. However, it is currently unclear if they will take up her cause, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader.
"Students and community members that are allowed to come on campus and participate in a neutral thing are allowed to express religious viewpoints," Matthew Sharp, an Alliance Defending Freedom attorney, told the outlet. "The students know it's the mother and her own speech -- something that the First Amendment protects -- and that it is not the school mandating this woman to do it."
The president of the Concord school board, Kassandra Ardinger, agrees that Urena should be prohibited from praying on campus.
"To be fair to all the kids in the school, it is probably best for the principal to say that she shouldn't be speaking out like this and proselytizing on school grounds," Ardinger said to the New Hampshire Union Leader. "The best mode of action was to tell her to cool it."
According to the Concord Monitor, Urena will continue to pray for the school’s students, but from a nearby gas station or her own home.