Freethinker of the Year Award

The Jager Family – 1989

Jager v. Douglas County School District, 862 F.2d 824 (11th Cir.), Cert. den. 490 U.S. 1090 (1989)

High school student Doug Jager ended a 41-year abuse of pregame prayers led by Christian ministers at high school football games in the Douglas County Public Schools, Georgia. As a member of the marching band, Doug was harassed in 1984 for not participating in the prayers. His father William Jager helped contact the ACLU, and the case went public during the 1986-1987 school year. Doug's mother, Sue, and brother, Mark, gave moral support and faced threats and harassment from the Christian community. In February 1987, a lower court ruled pregame prayers at public high schools unconstitutional, but later reversed itself to approve an "equal access" prayer plan. The Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a 2-1 decision in favor of the Jagers on Jan. 3, 1989.

On May 30, 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court let the appeals court decision stand, making the Jager family victory final. Appeals Court Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr., wrote: "When a religious invocation is given via a sound system controlled by school principals and the religious invocation occurs at a school-sponsored event at a school-owned facility, the conclusion is inescapable that the religious invocation conveys a message that the school endorses the religious invocation."

William Jager: "Our Constitution allows for a freedom that is rich in religious diversity, and also allows for no religious beliefs at all. When government lends its power and prestige to any one type of religion, the rest then become second class."

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