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August 04. 2013 9:08PM

Mother says she'll fight for right to pray outside Concord school

CONCORD — The Concord mother who was ordered by school officials to stop praying on the high school's front steps before the start of school each day could choose an attorney today to represent her, a state lawmaker said Sunday.

"If the school remains inflexible about her praying on school property, there absolutely will be a lawsuit," former state representative David Bates, R-Windham, said.

Bates said he is assisting Liza Urena in the selection of a lawyer to pursue the case.

Urena said Sunday she has been overwhelmed by expressions of support from people around the country who believe the school district went too far in demanding that she stop praying at the entrance to the school.

"I have many people, lawyers and Christian organizations from around the nation, and the state that know what is going on and they have contacted me," Urena said. "They know about my case because the news about it is going far."

Urena said she began praying at the high school's front door several months ago after one of her children was bullied in school and she was not satisfied by school officials' efforts to address the issue.

She said she prays for the people who bullied her daughter, as well as for the students, staff and teachers at Concord High.

"I forgave them in my heart and I asked my daughter to forgive them too," she said. "I decided I would pray for them and all the people in the school." Urena said she began her prayers each day at 7 a.m., well before the start of the school day at 7:30, and was finished within 15 minutes.

A native of the Dominican Republic who earned American citizenship in 2009, Urena said she was encouraged in her daily prayer routine by parents, students and even school officials.

"The principal and other people said to me, 'Thank you for praying for us,'" she said, "Everything was good until those people reached out from another state,"

After complaints were raised by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison, Wisc., group dedicated to maintaining a strict separation between church and state, Superintendent Christine Rath decided that Urena would no longer be allowed to pray at the school's front door.

Advocates and opponents of school prayer have framed the issue as a conflict between the so-called establishment and free exercise clauses in the First Amendment.

Bates said several groups have offered to provide an attorney to represent Urena in a suit claiming her right to free exercise of religion was violated when Rath told her she could no longer pray on the high school steps.

Bates said he filed a right-to-know request with the school district after being rebuffed in a request for specific information about any district policy responsible for the order to Urena to stop praying on district property.

"I, as a New Hampshire citizen, have a right to know this," Bates said. "Myself and others might want to pray there."

wsmith@unionleader.com


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