FFRF calls time out on illegal La. football loudspeaker prayers

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is seeking a permanent time out for the tradition of broadcasted prayers at a Louisiana high school.

Franklinton High School in Franklinton, La., has developed an unlawful policy of scheduling a student speaker to lead a prayer over the school’s public address system before the start of each football game and many other athletic events. The prayers reportedly occur when many students are in attendance, both as fans and also as part of school-sponsored extracurricular programs, such as members of the athletic team, band and cheerleading squad. The student speaker is apparently an elected member of the school’s Student Council who has been designated the “student chaplain.”

It is illegal for a public school to sponsor religious messages at school athletic events, FFRF reminds the Washington Parish School System.

“The Supreme Court has specifically struck down invocations given over the loudspeaker at public school athletic events” in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe (2000), FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover writes to Washington Parish School System Superintendent Darrell Fairburn. “The court reasoned that because the athletic event was school-sponsored, hosting prayer was a constitutional violation. Even if student-led, prayers at a ‘regularly scheduled school-sponsored function conducted on school property’ would lead an objective observer to perceive it as state endorsement of religion.” 

Like the prayer practice in Santa Fe, the prayers at Franklinton High athletic events are inappropriate and unconstitutional, FFRF asserts. Not only is the district endorsing these prayers by allotting time for them at the start of games, but it is also providing the prayer officiant with the public address system needed to impose these prayers on all students and community members in attendance. Public school events must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students and citizens. Similarly, a public school cannot designate a student as a recognized “student chaplain” — a policy that obviously lends official government endorsement to the specific religious messages being promoted by an individual student.

Legal arguments aside, it is also unnecessary and divisive to open school-sponsored events with religious messages, FFRF points out. Washington Parish School System is home to students and families from diverse backgrounds and belief systems, including minority religious and nonreligious families. Today, 30 percent of adults in the U.S. are non-Christian, and that number is rising, according to a recent report from the Public Religion Research Institute. Among younger Americans — i.e., the school district’s students — more than 43 percent are non-Christian, either practicing a minority religion or no religion at all, according to the Pew Research Center.

“It’s been 17 years since the Supreme Court clearly signaled that this kind of violation in our public school systems must stop,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Let’s just have fun at the game!”

FFRF insists that the district immediately end the practice of scheduling prayer at school-sponsored events. Franklinton High must also cease recognizing an official “student chaplain” within the student body.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 30,000 members across the country, including many in Louisiana. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and to educate the public on matters related to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

Send this to a friend