SMITHS STATION, Ala. – Students, players and members of the public attending a high school football game in Alabama stood up and recited the Lord’s Prayer in unison on Friday after a secular group complained about a student-led prayer that was broadcast over the loudspeaker during a recent game.
On Aug. 31, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to Dr. James McCoy Jr., superintendent of Lee County Schools, regarding a prayer that a student volunteered to deliver before a high school football game.
“It is our understanding that on August 25, 2017, Smiths Station High School broadcasted a prayer over the loudspeaker prior to the first football game of the season,” wrote FFRF legal fellow Christopher Line. “We understand that this prayer took place right after the national anthem.”
The group said that a concerned parent notified them about the pregame prayer.
“It is illegal for a public school to sponsor religious messages at school athletic events,” the FFRF letter contended.
Calling the prayer a “serious violation of the First Amendment,” FFRF urged McCoy to put an end to the practice.
“Not only is the district endorsing these prayers by allotting time for them at the start of games, but it is also providing the prayer-giver with the public address system needed to impose these prayers on all students and community members at games,” the correspondence stated. “Public school events must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students.”
The school district consequently decided to comply with the Church-State separation group’s request.
“Dr. McCoy has informed his principals that he expects all Lee County Schools to comply with current law with respect to prayer at football games held on Lee County Schools property,” wrote attorney William Sanderson on behalf of Lee County Schools.
“The school system was facing litigation that we felt as though would not rule in our favor, if we continued with prayer over our public address system,” McCoy also explained in a statement.
“Our response to the demand letter has been slightly delayed due to our conversations with legal counsel and conducting research on this matter. I was simply trying to find a way for our students to continue to do what they have been doing with student-led prayer,” he said. “Unfortunately, I was not successful in that endeavor.”
Following the district’s decision, members of the Smiths Station community rallied together in favor of pregame prayers. Mike Green, a local businessman, announced plans to buy advertisement space on the high school football stadium’s scoreboard and put the Lord’s Prayer on the sign. A GoFundMe campaign to help fund the sign has since raised several thousand dollars.
“The ad spot is to be a focal point of the stadium, and I think that shows what our community stands for,” he told Eagle Eye TV.
Prior to Smiths Station’s football game Friday night, students and parents also recited the Lord’s Prayer in unison following the national anthem.
“That was emotional,” Jennie Sanders, wife of the Smiths Station defensive line coach, remarked following the prayer as she wiped tears from her eyes. “The kids want to pray.”
According to photographs posted on social media, the referees also circled up to pray prior to the game.
Melissa Reynolds, a parent whose child plays in Smiths Station’s marching band, told OANow.com that she was glad to see the pregame prayer tradition continue.
“One of the reasons I love Lee County so much is that they still keep God in things,” she said.