FFRF stops unconstitutional prayer for two high school football teams

Cape Henlopen High School in Lewes, Del., and Piedmont High School in Piedmont, Ala., will no longer host unconstitutional prayers after receiving letters from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. 

FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote to the Cape Henlopen School District on Oct. 8 after receiving a report that the high school football coaches participated in a team prayer circle. “While students may wish to engage in prayer on their own, school staff, including coaches, cannot participate in or encourage such religious activities,” Cavell informed the district. 

In an Oct. 17 response, Superintendent Robert Fulton told FFRF he had discussed the matter with the administration and football coach, and said “employees, including coaches, will be reminded of laws involving the Separation of Church and State.” 

In a similar First Amendment violation, FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert first wrote to Piedmont City Schools in March, informing the district that Piedmont High’s practice of beginning football games with prayer broadcast over the loudspeaker was unconstitutional. 

After multiple follow-up letters from FFRF, Superintendent Matt Akin emailed Markert last summer, informing her, “Beginning immediately, the Piedmont City School District will no longer allow student led prayer at athletic events.” 

The complaint is making news again this week after Piedmont High School posted a message on its Facebook page informing the public of its decision. Noting that FFRF had cited numerous Supreme Court cases in its letter, the post said, “While the personal opinions of the administration and employees of the system may differ with the opinions of the Court and the author of the letter sent to the system, the school system’s attorneys advised that we consent since there is established case law regarding this issue.” 

USA Today reported, “Piedmont is one of many schools to receive such letters from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has dramatically increased public awareness of its own message and goals in recent years. While it attempts to limit the spread of institutionalized religion in public places across many forums, it has generated the most notable success in schools, particularly school sports.” 

FFRF is a national state-church watchdog based in Madison, Wis., with more than 21,000 members. FFRF employs five staff attorneys, plus a legal fellow, and has sent out more than 800 formal letters of complaint over state/church violations so far in 2014. Public school violations accounted for the greatest majority of letters. FFRF has halted over 150 state/church violations this year, including 13 related to prayer in public school athletics.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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