SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — Prayers delivered prior to football games at a public high school in Tennessee are being considered out-of-bounds by an atheist activist organization after an anonymous individual contacted the group to lodge a complaint.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) first contacted officials with the Marion County School District last year, asserting that prayers before South Pittsburg High School football games violated the United States Constitution and “must be discontinued immediately.” The prominent atheist group states that it was notified about the practice by a local resident, but would not disclose the name of the complainant.
Superintendent Mark Griffith ignored the letter, mailed last April, stating that FFRF had no right to tell him how to run the district.
“I did ignore the complaint when it came in last year because an organization in Wisconsin trying to tell us how to do business in Marion County– that really upset me,” Griffith told local tv station News Channel 9.
Therefore, the organization sent follow-up letters in both May and July, again demanding that the prayers cease. District attorney Marshall Raines then replied to the correspondence, but asked that the name of the complainant be revealed “to determine whether your organization has standing to raise this issue and to properly investigate the assertions contained in your letter.”
FFRF responded by stating that there was no need to identify the individual who lodged the complaint.
“Marion County Schools can confirm the practice of prayer before football games without knowing who told us,” wrote attorney Rebecca Markert. “FFRF would not be pursuing this issue at all if it had not been brought to our attention by someone who attended a game and was offended by its religious content.”
“We hope you will understand why the complainant contacted us rather than the administration on this matter,” she continued. “The family would prefer that their identities be held in confidence so that there is no negative interaction between the complainant and administrators at the school.”
During this time, South Pittsburg High School amended its practice of praying over a public address system, and began a pre-game tradition called “Meet Me at the 50.” Both the home team and opposing team gather at the 50-yard line for 10 minutes to pray together before battling each other on the field.
However, FFRF says that the practice is still unconstitutional and must stop.
“‘Meet Me at the 50’ continues an unconstitutional practice that must be discontinued immediately,” Markert asserted. “We further ask that you inform us promptly, in writing, of the steps the district is taking to remedy this serious and flagrant violation of the First Amendment.”
Superintendent Griffith told reporters this week that he is upset that the atheist activist organization continues to demand an end to the student-led prayers.
“We are within the boundaries of the law, and we will continue doing [Meet Me at the 50] until someone tells us otherwise,” he told the Times Free Press. “Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the population in our county approves of it.”
He stated that the attorney for the school board would file a lawsuit this week in an effort to force FFRF to reveal the complainant’s identity as the district remains skeptical as to whether or not the complainant is a local resident and if they have legal standing in the matter.