Trustee says Pickens Co. school board prayer policy illegal

PICKENS, S.C. (WSPA-TV) – The debate surrounding praying to Jesus or other religious deities before school board meetings is back in the spotlight in Pickens County.

The issue goes back more than two years, but, now, a new state law has one trustee saying their policy is illegal and unconstitutional.

Alex Saitta has been a champion for examining their prayer policy ever since a Supreme Court ruling two years ago claimed it was okay to pray to a particular deity before government meetings.

Last year, the issue came to a head when the board’s tie vote failed to change their current policy requiring generic prayers be made by school board members.

Now, he believes state law is on his side and he wants a lawyer to review their policy to determine if they are in violation.

“It looks to me that the policy that the school board had which requires board members to give non-sectarian prayers is now illegal,” said Saitta, Wednesday. “Most of the trustees don’t know the law and the law changes with each court ruling, so if you don’t know what the line of the law is and you fear you could get sued, the best solution is just to be way back here.”

His reasoning is why he wants their Columbia based attorney, Bick Halligan to give them advice.

He says the board is giving him push back.

Saitta said Chairwoman Judy Edwards claimed at Monday’s meeting that she had sought their attorney’s advice, but wanted to wait until after the November elections to review it.

Saitta is currently the only trustee running in a contested race to keep his seat.

Attorney Bick Halligan tells us he will review the policy once asked by the board, but they have not yet approached him.

Saitta says the motion was tabled Monday to their next meeting.

7News reached out to Chairwoman Edwards to ask her if she had, indeed, reached out for advice and why she was looking to wait, based on Mr. Saitta’s claims.

Edwards said that multiple members on the board wanted to wait until after the election because there is the potential that half the board will be new. She said something of this importance and magnitude should be decided by the people who would see it through. She also said that members of the community, including clergy, are welcome to come and pray during public comment sections of every school board meeting.

She said once the new board is in place, they will once again reach out to their attorney and see what next steps need to be made.

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