Alabama schools continue in unlawful prayer

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has yet to receive a response from Superintendent William Valentine regarding Lauderdale County School District's sanction of illegal prayer before athletic events. FFRF wrote two letters on behalf of a concerned Lauderdale County School District resident and Alabama members of FFRF.

FFRF has 17,000 members nationwide, a chapter, the Alabama Freethought Association, as well as 150 members in Alabama, and works to protect the constitutional principle of state/church separation.

Local complainants confirm sectarian prayers that invoke "Christ" continue to be broadcast over the loudspeaker at Brooks High School football games and "micro-midget" elementary school football games, despite FFRF's warnings that these acts are in direct violation of the First Amendment.

"It is coercive and inappropriate to ask students to listen while a prayer is delivered at athletic events. This is especially disturbing given the young age of these students," said FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt.

Public school events must be secular in order to protect the freedom of conscience of all students. Prayer before football games establishes an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion, turns students who are non-Christian into outsiders and confers the school's seal of approval on adherents.

"It is a tenet of the First Amendment that the State cannot require one of its citizens to forfeit his or her rights and benefits as the price of resisting conformance to state-sponsored religious practice," as stated by the Supreme Court in Lee v. Weisman. In Edwards v. Aguillard the Supreme Court noted, "[the] State exerts great authority and coercive power…because of the students' emulation of teachers as role models and the children's susceptibility to peer pressure."

"We ask that the school district commence an immediate investigation into the complaints alleged and take immediate action to stop any and all prayers occurring before any school-sponsored event," wrote Schmitt in a final appeal to Valentine.

"What makes this situation particularly egregious is that violations are occurring in elementary schools. The District is imposing illegal prayer upon the youngest and most impressionable students, and this must stop," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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