The Freedom From Religion Foundation was forced this week to take up a complaint it had already resolved. The Bell County Board of Education in Kentucky announced that it would reinstate prayer at football games, a practice that was dropped in 2011 after FFRF sent the district a complaint.
The board voted to reinstitute the prayers after receiving a petition from teachers and students on the condition that they are "student led."
"We'll have several of our First Priority students, so it will be student-led, those who are interested in leading the prayer. It's not an organized prayer. It will happen sometime before the game, probably over the loud speaker," said Samantha Johnson, a Bell County teacher.
The Supreme Court specifically struck down student-led invocations given over the loudspeaker at public school football games, because the games are school-sponsored events conducted on school property.
"Given the clear legal precedent on this issue, it is surprising—not to mention baffling—that the school board would knowingly violate the law and bring back prayer before athletic games," FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to Superintendent Yvonne W. Gilliam on Thursday. Markert also wrote the 2011 letter.
"Scheduling prayer at a school-sponsored event is a flagrant violation of the law. The district must take immediate action to ensure prayers are not scheduled at athletic events, including the first football game," Markert said. Bell County High School's football team plays its first game tonight.
It is perhaps unsurprising that this particular school district is reoffending. In 2011, the superintendent at the time, George Thompson, posted on the school district's home page that he was "aware of various court cases that ruled a prayer (even a student led prayer) before a school sponsored event was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion," but had "always taken the position that we will continue the prayer until someone makes us stop."
FFRF will make them stop once again.
FFRF is a national state/church watchdog with more than 22,700 members, including over 150 members and a chapter in Kentucky.