FFRF stops prayer at football games in Ohio school district

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has convinced the Symmes Valley Local School District to no longer broadcast prayers over the loudspeaker at future football games.

A concerned district parent reported that a district football scrimmage in August included an adult-led Christian prayer prior to the national anthem. Everyone in attendance was asked to stand for the prayer.

Upon being informed of the constitutional violation, FFRF took action.

The Supreme Court has specifically struck down prayers at public school athletic events, FFRF stressed. Not only did the school district show favoritism toward religion and coerce participation in the prayer by allotting time for it at the start of the game, but it also provided the prayer-giver with the public address system needed to impose these prayers on all students and community members at the game.

Public school events must be free of religion and welcoming to all in order to protect the freedom of conscience of all students, FFRF emphasized. Plus, this coercive religious practice needlessly alienates and excludes those students who are a part of the 49 percent of Generation Z that is religiously unaffiliated.

“The district must be neutral with regard to religion in order to respect and protect the First Amendment rights of all students and their families,” FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote to Superintendent Greg Bowman.

In order to adhere to the Constitution, the district acted quickly, and informed the state/church watchdog of its action. Bowman wrote back: “Prior to the next home game, we will direct the PA announcer that he is to refrain from leading prayer henceforth and will also ask for his assistance in relaying that refrain to other adults that may be in the press box — I expect his full cooperation.”

FFRF appreciates the district’s cooperative attitude in resolving the matter.

“Asking all the people in attendance to stand for a prayer during a school-sponsored football game is a constitutional foul,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “Keeping the PA booth free from religious intrusion will keep the audience free from it, too.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 1,000 members and three chapters in Ohio. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

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Freedom From Religion Foundation

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