Prayer plaque in Wytheville school taken down

Published: Sep. 14, 2017 at 5:20 PM EDT
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A plaque with a short prayer blessing food in a Wytheville school cafeteria has been taken down.

A Wisconsin organization is calling it unconstitutional and requested its removal.

The plaque was posted next to a door in the school's lunchroom. It reads,"OUR FATHER: WE THANK THEE FOR THIS FOOD. BLESS IT TO THE NOURISHMENT OF OUR BODIES AND OUR LIVES TO THY SERVICE. AMEN"

It now sits in storage after the Freedom From Religion Foundation got a complaint from someone in the community, saying it promotes a Christian message.

"When we reviewed it we found that it was unconstitutional. That it violated a number of court cases and so we then contacted the school district," said Patrick Elliott, senior counsel with the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The organization sent this letter in May to the school district asking for its removal, citing court cases with similar situations. After review the school superintendent says the law is clear.

"We all took an oath to uphold the constitution and and uphold the laws of this land. This particular prayer and this particular plaque is almost verbatim unconstitutional," said Jeff Perry, the Wythe County Schools superintendent.

It was up for decades. Perry says, to his knowledge, it's only now causing controversy.

The sign was seen as imposing one belief over another, according to the Wisconsin based organization. Attorneys said it was a clear church and state violation.

"Even though many people may well agree with a prayer, that's not the place for public schools to institute that on children. Parents have the right to do that not the public school system," Elliott said.

The superintendent says the sign is safe and available for museums or churches.

"Regardless if we did take this to court and regardless if we spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on fighting this particular one, I'm confident in the end we would lose," Perry said.

There is a planned community forum next Thursday for people to ask questions about the school's response to the request.