The Jefferson County School District in Alabama has agreed to stop broadcasting Christian prayer over the PA system at the start of school-sponsored football games and events after a parent complained to a national nonprofit that advocated for the breakup employed by church and state.
The parent wrote to the Freedom From Religion Foundation in September that when district schools played a Christian prayer over loudspeakers, his child felt uncomfortable because he didn’t know if he should stand with the other students and pretend Christian, or sit and risk scrutiny by his peers, Chris Line, an attorney for the foundation, told McClatchy News.
“It really put him in a difficult position,” he said. “Not a situation any public school should put any of their students in.”
The foundation sent a letter to the school district in September and received a response in March saying the superintendent had met with principals and agreed to stop playing prayers at school-sponsored events, Line said.
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In a statement, Jefferson County School District Superintendent Walter Gonsoulin said the issue was “administratively resolved at the school level.”
“This decision was based on the legal obligations of the (Jefferson County School) Board established by binding precedent,” the statement said.
But, Gonsoulin said, “clinging” to the court’s rulings “should not be construed as a denial of students’ religious rights and freedoms in the school environment.”
“The Jefferson County Board of Education remains firmly committed to respecting and protecting these rights and freedoms in every manner permitted by the United States Constitution and laws,” Gonsoulin said.
In 2000, the US Supreme Court ruled that school-sponsored prayer at high school football games was unconstitutional, reaffirming its previous rulings against public school-sponsored prayer.
In the majority opinion in the case — Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe — then Judge John Paul Stevens wrote, “While we consider each high school student’s decision to attend a home football game to be purely voluntary, we nonetheless believe that the giving of a prayer before the game has the improper effect of forcing those present to participate in religious worship.”
The dissenting judges said the decision was hostile to “all things religious in public life” and took an overly rigid view of the separation of church and state, according to dissenting opinion of then-Judge William Rehnquist.
The court first ruled in 1962 that school-sponsored prayers violated the First Amendment.
“Everyone should be able to fully participate and be full members of their school and just enjoy a football game on Friday night without worrying about religious implications,” Line said.
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