Ninety-two people showed up at the regular monthly meeting of the Lake Local Board of Education last night.
Why so many?
Because God needs defending, at least for 91 of them, in Lake, that's why.
Lake has, since the mid-1990s, stood tall for God, while most of Stark's other 16 districts shy away from the God-talk.
Back in December, 2009, the storied Lake backing of God fell apart. The Lake Board of Education (BOE), by a 5 - 0 vote, "temporarily" (the members say) took God out of the school district's mission statement because of a complaint by a local resident through the Freedom from Religion Foundation which is located in Madison, Wisconsin. The complaint was lodged in August, 2009.
Initially, the devout of Lake were stunned at the news of the December decision.
But in the form of 91 strong (one of the attendees was opposed - a minister, believe it or not) they have now recovered and mean to "encourage" the "elected" school board members (Jelen, VanderKaay, Poling, Brott and Bailey) to reconsider their (not Baliey - he was not yet a member) "temporary" removal of God from the district's school mission statement.
A source tells the SCPR that the 91 were civil, well-mannered and even cordial and "religously" followed the "public speaks" rules (3 minutes each for about a dozen speakers). In fact, the SCPR is told that the entire board meeting only last 58 minutes.
However, for all their orderliness, the God-defenders are persistent and mean to get God back in at Lake.
The Report does not believe that the school board members are necessarily opposed. But they do have a problem.
Yes. And the problem is the real likelihood that if they put God back in, then these very elected officials will find themselves in Court defending God at taxpayer expense. Litigation, if it occurs, will not be cheap. The district has already contacted its liability insurance carrier to determine whether or not there might be insurance to cover the litigation expense. Even if so, which the SCPR would be surprised to learn that such is the case, the cost to the taxpayer would then likely be a huge increase in the insurance premium.
Why will Lake likely end up in court?
Because the Freedom from Religion Foundation has a history of suing over issues like the Lake issue. It appears that since the Foundation incorporated in 1978 as a national organization, it has been involved in 16 lawsuits and is currently in court on four issues. (source: Wikipedia)
So it seems as if the Lake BOE is between the proverbial "rock and a hard place."
What will the board members do?
Well, if board president Bill Jelen has his way, the matter won't come up again until May, 2010 when Lake's strategic planning work has been completed. By then, he hopes, that a middle ground will be found. According to Jelen, Lake will use the time to gather information and evaluate.
Even Jelen questions whether or not the 91 strong will abide waiting until May.
The SCPR has learned from community sources that board member David Poling is close to caving in to the pressure being applied by the pro-God-in-the-mission-statement forces and is on the brink of forcing an up or down vote on whether or not God is in or out at Lake.
Not to be outdone by the nationally based Freedom from Religion Foundation (FRF), many of the 91 God-supporters have come up with their own list of national organizations for Lake officials to consult with to counter-balance the FRF.
No matter where one stands on this issue, you have to totally admire the Reverend Richard Beck of the Uniontown United Church of Christ. Beck stood alone in opposition to the 91 who were at last night's meeting standing up for God.
Beck is for God, too. However, he figures that God can take care of himself. And Beck believes that God sent his son to die for not only believers but for unbelievers, too. Jesus was a inclusive guy, he tells the SCPR; not an excluder.
Minister Beck says that he has gotten support from within the Lake Ministerial Association and from within his own congregation.
He spoke of a recent Lake graduate telling about feeling uncomfortable with God being in the Lake mission statement espcially when it became known among students that his father was an agnostic. Beck says that if it comes to litigation, he expects that this student and others, including himself, will step forward as witnesses for keeping God out of the Lake mission statement.
The Lake BOE is in consultation with Stark County Educational Service Center attorney Mary Jo Shannon-Slick on the matter as well as a major law firm out of Columbus which specializes in First Amendment litigation.
It appears to the SCPR that the Lake BOE is measuring its chances of sustaining God, if they put him back in the mission statement. That's why the BOE has been talking to the likes of the American Center for Law and Justice, Liberty Counsel, the Christian Legal Society and the Alliance Defense Fund (all conservative Christian groups). The Board wants to be convinced that Lake will be victorious.
In The Report's talking with board president Jelen, a part of the discussion centered on exactly what was the significance - in terms of being indicative of the overall Lake community - of the 91 pro-God-in-the-mission-statement folks.
Jelen pointed out that some of the 91 were from Summit County, but that the vast majority were from Lake.
While, personally and individually, the SCPR believes that the Lake BOE members wish that the Board's December, 2009 vote would hold. Local politics, however, seem to indicate otherwise.
And Stark Countians should never forget that - notwithstanding being "non-partisan" in running for and holding office, these folks to stand for re-election and therefore they are politicians.
At the end of the day, the SCPR believes that the Lake BOE members will turn out to be nose counters.
The Report says that the Lake BOE will likely reinstate God and then pray that he is on their side as everyone heads to court.