Football team’s pre-game proselytization hamstrung (June 17, 2014)

Illegal prayer at football pre-game team meals has been halted at Alexander High School in Douglasville, Ga.

According to reports by a concerned individual, the varsity football team had been supplied pre-game meals by Pray’s Mill Baptist Church. Not only was a pastor of the church present at the meals, but also at most of the practices and games. At the end of the mandatory meals, the pastor would deliver a “pseudo-sermon” and ask those present — the entire team — to bow their heads and participate in prayer. The complainant added that “it makes several non-believer athletes uncomfortable as well, but because they’re students on the team, they can’t just ‘step out’ and not participate or risk banishment.”

On May 27, FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote Supt. Gordon Pritz of Douglas County School District, censuring them, explaining: “It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for AHS to offer a Christian minister unique access to befriend and proselytize student athletes. Public high school athletic teams cannot seek out a spiritual leader for the team and allow that person to sermonize and pray with students, because public schools may not advance or promote religion.”

Counsel for the District replied on June 17, assuring that Supt. Pritz “has discussed with school administration and appropriate staff members the legal issues that you raised. . . To the extent there existed any issue with a prayer or religious talk being given to students on the team during a team event by local clergy, there will be no such activity during next football season.”

Unfortunately, prayer violations in the Douglasville County School District are perennial. The district was successfully sued by Doug Jager, the son of a longtime FFRF member, over pregame invocations in the late 1980s. Douglas was a member of the marching band. Jager v. Douglas County District prevailed in 1989, when the Supreme Court let stand a ruling in Doug’s favor by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Freedom From Religion Foundation