An Andrews teen wants prayer boxes in parks, it may not be constitutional

Published: Jan. 14, 2020 at 7:34 PM CST
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A teen’s project to bring prayers into public parks is running into some legal issues.

Andrews County parks are a familiar spot for West Texans to enjoy the good old outdoors by going for a walk or perhaps throwing some bread to the ducks.

While relaxing is how most people choose to spend their time in these parks, High School Student John Garcia thought there might be room for one more thing: Worship.

Garcia wants to set up boxes in four Andrews County parks for visitors to write down prayer requests that he’d later pick up and answer.

An innocent enough idea.

“We didn’t think anything of it,” Andrews County Judge Charlie Falcon said of the initial decision.

But perhaps not a legal one.

After the Andrews County Commissioners gave the box project a thumbs up, the Freedom From Religion Foundation stepped in.

The organization is focused on protecting the separation of church and state in local governments.

The group is asking the county to reverse its decision, saying that the addition of prayer boxes is an endorsement of Christianity.

“The explicit reasoning for them is ‘to extend our power of prayer with our love of Christ’ and ‘to provide scholarships to kids who go to Christian universities,’” Robert G. Ingersoll Legal Fellow Brendan Johnson said. “These are explicitly religious motivations which we don’t think the government should have any business involving itself with.”

In a letter penned to the county judge, the foundation cited several supreme court decisions that make clear the government can’t favor one religion over another or religion over non-religion.

The county judge said he’s seeking legal counsel from the county attorney to figure out if the student-organized prayer boxes are a violation of the constitution.

“I mean, I’m a Christian and yes,” Falcon said. “But again, what we’ll do is we’ll follow what the laws stipulate. Regardless of what I believe in, we still have to follow the law.”

The judge also tells me Andrews is a very Christian community, so if it turns out they can’t put the boxes up in parks, they won’t just sit there.

He said the boxes would likely find a home at private businesses nearby.

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