Complaint forces school district to pull pre-game prayer

By: Kendall Downing Email
By: Kendall Downing Email

Bell County High School football games normally start with a prayer over the loudspeaker. But that was missing from Friday's home opener!

Before anyone takes the field, they usually hear a prayer. But not anymore.

"It certainly was not our choice to discontinue the prayer," said George Thompson, Superintendent of Bell County Schools.

Bell County Schools received a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation earlier in August.

"First thing we tried to determine - was it legitimate," said Thompson.

The letter instructs the school district to stop "a flagrant violation of the law." It's referring to a prayer before the football game, given by a local pastor.

"The Supreme Court has settled this question in case after case," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, Co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The letter cites a number of Supreme Court cases where school-sponsored and even student-led prayers have been found to be unconstitutional.

School officials sent the letter to their attorney, who sent it on to Frankfort. Last week, state attorneys confirmed that the school's prayer is against the law.

School leaders said they did not tell the public there would not be a prayer because they did not want to take away from the excitement of Friday's game.

The foundation said the complaint was filed by a concerned family, whose identity they will not reveal.

"We complain on their behalf because they feel vulnerable," said Gaylor.

"If we tried to fight it, we couldn't win. There was no way we could win the suit because of the previous court cases," said Thompson.

It's a time honored tradition - that appears to have come to an end.

"We've always taken a position that we're going to do it until somebody makes us stop. And apparently, it appears that time has come for us," said Thompson.

Mountain News called the American Center for Law and Justice, who works to fight against these sorts of issues. Representatives said that the specifics of each case are very important, and it will take time to survey that information.

Superintendent Thompson sent a message to all staff members in which he said the district would "do everything ethically and legally possible to benefit our students."

Those with the school district are looking into other alternatives, like a moment of silence.

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