The Freedom From Religion Foundation has contacted Jefferson County Schools in Birmingham, Ala., to warn that by scheduling and broadcasting prayer at school football games it is in violation of longstanding case law.
The state/church watchdog was contacted by a concerned parent who reports that Gardendale High School has resumed its unconstitutional practice of broadcasting prayer over the loudspeaker to open its first home game of the season. The complainant’s child is required to attend football games and has been subjected to this unconstitutional school-sponsored religious exercise.
“The Supreme Court has specifically struck down invocations over the loudspeaker at public school athletic events, even when student-led,” FFRF Attorney Chris Line reminds the district. That Supreme Court decision, issued 22 years ago, is part of a long legal history of decisions against religious rituals in public schools to protect the rights of conscience of public school students, who are a captive audience at the mercy of school officials and peer pressure.
FFRF took pains to point out that the situation at Gardendale High differs significantly from the high court’s recent decision, Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, upholding the right of a high school football coach to engage in private post-game prayer. Coach Joe Kennedy did not ask the court for the right to lead students in prayer, and the court did not overturn longstanding precedent against school-sponsored prayer.
The school board claims it brought back this unconstitutional practice — which it had halted in March 2022 after FFRF intervened — to “respect and protect the religious rights of students.” Line calls this a “flawed rationale,” which in fact violates the rights of students, particularly the nonreligious (now nearly one in three Americans) and minority religious students.
“It is coercive to inflict prayer on student athletes, band participants, cheerleaders and audience members,” adds Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “The district must take immediate action to end this discriminatory and inappropriate practice.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has over 37,000 members nationwide, including more than 250 in Alabama, is a 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit that works to uphold the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public about nontheists.