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Editorial: Praying mother doesn’t belong at Concord High

In retrospect, the most curious thing about the curious case of Lizarda Urena is that the Concord School District ever condoned her activity in the first place. And, once condoned, that it went on for so long.

Urena is the mother of Concord students and a Christian who, for months, spent 15 minutes each morning praying on the steps of Concord High School for the safety of the student body. Her practice began after two bullets were found in a school bathroom. She prayed aloud, with arms outstretched. Her message, she told Monitor reporter Kathleen Ronayne last spring: “Just love each other in the name of Jesus.”

After some initial complaints, she was asked to pray silently, rather than out loud. And now, after an atheist group called the Freedom From Religion Foundation protesting, she will not be allowed back at all.

It shouldn’t have taken such complaints for school officials to do the right thing.

Public schools can’t be seen as endorsing religion in general or, in this case, Christianity specifically. By letting Urena pray on school grounds, the school district was giving its implied stamp of approval to her conduct.

It’s easy to see why officials might have seen her message as benign; after all, she was praying for the safety of their students. But it’s also easy to imagine similar scenarios in which a nonstudent peddling a more controversial religious message would have been accused of trespassing and swiftly escorted off school property. Consider what might have happened if Urena wanted to assert that God won’t let gays into heaven; that Allah be praised; that there is no God.

Public schools are not the same as public squares. Nonstudents don’t have the right to preach or pray or proselytize there. Some Concord clergy and readers have wondered: Who was Urena hurting? But students on their way in and out of school – even just a single student – shouldn’t be made to feel like outsiders if they don’t believe what a school-approved prayer leader is promoting. And the schools certainly shouldn’t be in the position of approving some religious messages but not others.

In this country’s long history of church-versus-state battles, skirmishes over Scripture readings in school or the distribution of Bibles in classrooms are more familiar and, perhaps, more clear. But Concord isn’t the first district to wrestle with a nonstudent using school property to pray. A couple years back in Florida, a minister made a habit of leading prayers on the grounds of local elementary schools, often drawing a large crowd. There, too, the Freedom From Religion Foundation stepped in and rightly put an end to it.

We can understand why Superintendent Chris Rath chose not to comment to a Monitor reporter this week; after all, it seems she had assured the Freedom From Religion Foundation that Urena wouldn’t be praying on school grounds anymore before actually delivering the message to Urena herself. Nevertheless, the issue is a good one for students to wrestle with.

When school resumes next month, we encourage teachers and school officials to lead some thoughtful discussions at Concord High about the presence and now absence of Lizarda Urena.

Legacy Comments21

What's with these offended Christians? Christians are nearly 80% of the population, and they behave like a persecuted minority.

So let me get this straight Field Of Ferns. The argument was never about forcing religion when one uses the phrase Merry Christmas, correct? It was all about folks saying Happy Holidays and making sure they were not accused of being anti Christian? Did I get that right? The folks who say Merry Christmas never felt that someone who said Happy Holidays was anti Christian until they were told that Merry Christmas needed to be replaced, never spoken, gone. Dept stores dropped that phrase Merry Christmas. No more Christmas Parties at schools, Holiday Tree was in. Holiday Egg hunt in Easter Egg Hunt out. Anthem needs to be rewritten, get God out of it. Next on the list will be banning saying God Bless if someone sneezes. Yeah, nothing anti Christian going on here.

No, you didn't get it right. "Happy Holidays" was about being inclusive - to include Christians as well as others who celebrate other December holidays. The thing that the HH people have been trying to make the Merry Christmas people understand is that Happy Holidays is not anti-Christian. It is inclusive of all, including Christians. Christmas is a holiday, and we'd like people who celebrate it to have a happy one. We'd also like those who celebrate Hanukah, Kwanza, Diwali, Solstice, and Festivus to have nice holidays as well, and that cannot be accomplished with "Merry Christmas." How hard is this to understand? Furthermore, I think you have your events in the wrong order. Holiday concerts and parties preceded the Merry Christmas ban by at least a couple decades. Perhaps it was the final straw for some, causing them to really sit up and take notice that we're a multi-religion country, as guaranteed by the constitution.

Get a grip. The phrases "Happy Holidays" and "Season's Greetings" were in common usage as far back as the Victorian era. The so-called (and phony) "War on Christmas" was invented in the past couple of years.

Get a grip, phony, etc. So much for addressing the issue. I see you have adopted the latest rhetoric from WA. You know all those scandals that the President deems phony.

I really don't understand why anyone is allowed on the schools steps doing anything. If she is allowed to stand there praying why can't someone else stand there selling things. I used to work for a store in Concord that aggressively sold their charge cards on streets and corners and put signs up all over advertising sales and we were fined by the city. Why the difference? I am sure Rabbit can't wait to tell me.

I do not believe that praying for the safety of students is promoting anything. Comparing that to selling charge cards is not the same thing at all. Is this woman asking anything in return? Just my take. She should not have been given permission in the first place. That shows a lack of judgment by whoever gave her permission, and questions why someone in that position did not see objections coming, possibly other groups requesting access to school grounds etc. With all the bad things we hear about our schools these days, this does not do anything to improve thinking in regards to how our schools are run. Makes folks worry that those in charge do not know what they are doing.

I wholeheartedly agree with you that this nice lady should never have been given permission in the first place. I'm curious about your stance on whether she was promoting anything with her prayer. What if that theoretical Wiccan, or a group of them, got out their candles and wands and stood in a circle on the steps every morning, chanting and spell casting in long flowing robes? Would you be concerned that they might have some kind of influence on the student population? Might they be considered to be promoting witchcraft? What's the difference between that and the Christian lady?

I guess for me FOF, good wishes are always welcomed. The source does not matter to me. I just think it is great if someone wants to wish you well, be it with prayers, or any other ritual they may use to try and evoke good vibes.

The fact that her praying was prominently public and ostentatious indicates that her appearance at the school was for purposes of proselytizing. There was no other reason to conduct her praying in that location. If she believes that there is a God who actually hears all prayers everywhere, she could just stay home and pray there. Her presence at the school was an aggressive act of publicity-seeking. She should have been sent home the first time she tried it. Alternately, she could enroll her children in a private religious school and get its permission to pray there publicly to her heart's content.

The editors of Concord Monitor got it wrong. Ms. Urena was not proselytizing any sort of religious slant. She was simply praying for the safety of her children and the safety of the students at CHS. The next time there is an incident at CHS it could have been avoided by a praying Mother. The power of prayer works and it does wonders. Shame on the school administrators for turning Mr. Urena away.

While I have no problem with people choosing to believe in mythology, (live and let live), I do take issue with those who inappropriately practice those beliefs in the public arena. When first allowed onto campus, Ms. Urena prayed ALOUD, thus she proselytized. She prayed to a deity which by its very nature has a "religious slant." As to your assertion that the power of prayer works or that it could prevent some type of incident, there is NO PROOF of that. (Do you carry insurance on your house, car or body? Why install smoke, radon or CO2 detectors in homes, schools or offices? Surely praying will prevent any loss of life, limb or property.) Even if prayer does work, why would anyone think that its effectiveness is site specific? What does it say about a higher power if it can't protect you unless you are praying directly under it? You are correct when you write "shame on school administrators" BUT NOT "for turning Mr.[sic] Urena away." Rather Gene Connolly should be ashamed (and reprimanded) for permitting this in the first place.

Wondering what your response would be if the mother in question was Wiccan, and cast a protective spell every morning on the school steps? Would you stand up for her right to do so? (I wouldn't - but not for the reasons you might thing. I don't think Wicca is evil, but I do believe the public practice of religion has no place in public schools, or on public school grounds.) The Monitor is right - the school should never put itself in the position of having to decide which religious activities are ok, and which are not. This particular activity may have been benign. The next one might not be so clear cut. Far better to simply follow the guidance of the constitution and not mix religion and state.

You mention Wicca like it's a bad thing?

No, I very clearly said I don't think Wicca is evil. However, it is highly misunderstood, and many people who get the warm fuzzies at the idea of a Christian mother praying for children on school grounds would be put off by the idea of a Wiccan doing spellwork in the very same spot. Can you imagine the uproar? I was trying to make the point that the school cannot put itself in the position of deciding which religious content is ok for the school steps. You can't allow one without allowing them all, and you can't ban one without banning them all. Best to follow the constitution.

Big difference Field-of-Ferns, billions of people worldwide are not Wiccans but they understand a belief in something bigger. If you want to believe that you are inevitable worm food and there is nothing else, that is your right. Please stand on those same steps and say: "there is no God". For decades prayer was in schools, the crime rate was down, teenage pregnancies were not an epidemic, people were much more civil. Don't think it hurt much but if offended people who did not like things like the 10 commandments or morals and thus they wanted to live by their own self defined sensibilities.....and that is OK too. But t was not "offensive", it was more of a temper tantrum by those who value life and humanity much less and in more obscure ways. Progressives rail against any faith or belief and belittle people who hold faith dear because deep down inside they wonder...."I don't think it is true, but what if.......". Fear causes that over reaction.

I think this would make for a good court case as I believe the School officials are squelching the right of Free Speech to be exercised here. I say bring it on. This is not a case of religion in my opinion.

My guess is this woman will not try and sue. She thought she was helping keep our kids safe with her prayers. I do not see where she was forcing anything on the students either. But we have folks now who consider saying Merry Christmas is forcing their beliefs on folks. The folks who do not believe in religion seem to be intimidated by praying. I have not figured out why if you think religion is bogus, why someone praying is forcing you to believe.

To Rabbit: Saying "Merry Christmas" is not forcing one's beliefs on others, and that was NEVER the point of the argument in the first place. The argument was not AGAINST "Merry Christmas," it was FOR the more inclusive "Happy Holidays," and for people's right to say that without being accused of being anti-Christian. But I guess some people believe that if they can't have a monopoly on something, they are being persecuted.

So now you are saying if there is an "incident" at the CHS the fault is because the mother was stopped from praying? Many incidents happen to people that pray all the time like the bus accident in Kansas. Why do people always thank God for someone being saved in a tornado, hurricane etc and not wonder why God sent the disaster in the first place?

True, bad things happen to believers but I don't think God sends them purposely to punish them. Nature is the culprit here.

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