CONCORD – A mother in New Hampshire who was barred from praying outside of the high school that her children attend has returned to the campus for the new school year, but is now praying silently each morning.
As previously reported, Lizarda Urena has been praying on the steps of the Concord High School auditorium every morning at approximately 7 a.m. since February. She began the tradition after her daughter was bullied at school, and at first, would read Scripture aloud and pray for the students and faculty, including those who allegedly mistreated her daughter.
For nearly four months, Urena’s practice of praying at the school continued without a complaint, and officials took no issue with her presence.
“She’s not teaching prayer; she’s not out there asking kids to come with [her],” Principal Gene Connolly told the Concord Monitor. “She does not promote religion.”
However, in May of this year, an unidentified resident contacted the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) to complain. In turn, the organization sought to investigate the matter further.
“We sent an open records request to the school district, asking them for copies of any meeting minutes or any sort of documents which gave this woman permission to pray on school property,” attorney Rebecca Markert told the New Hampshire Union Leader.
Additionally, the FFRF sent a letter urging the district to stop Urena from continuing to pray on the steps, and officials seemed to agree with the organization’s position–at least to an extent.
“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,” school board President Kassandra Ardinger told reporters. “The best mode of action was to tell her to cool it.”
However, a former state lawmaker who learned of the matter, David Bates, soon decided to become involved and defend the praying mother. After contacting Urena, he worked to help her find a Christian attorney to come to her aid.
Bates, a Christian, also visited Concord High School with Urena last week to join her in prayer. According to reports, the two signed in as a visitor and prayed for 10 to 15 minutes in silence outside of the building. Urena’s custom now is to pray in silence for the children and teachers each morning.
Attorney Matthew Sharpe with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), who has been representing Urena, told the Concord Monitor this week that he believes the matter with district officials has now been resolved. He had contended that as long as the district allows parents on campus for a variety of reasons, then Urena should be permitted to be on the premises just like anyone else.
“That’s really what we were looking for in all of this, is for her to be allowed back on campus, [and] for her to be able to pray before the school day,” he told the publication.
However, Superintendent Chris Rath also told reporters that the district has not made a decision at this time about Urena’s presence. He advised that school officials will continue to monitor her activity to determine if she is in line with the policies in place.
“We continue to work with her on a regular basis about how she can come and go from the high school in ways that respect both her ideas and our ideas,” he stated.