Prayerful Soddy Daisy High School knee-deep in constitutional violations

The Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote the superintendent of Hamilton County Schools [Chattanooga, Tenn.] over two serious, recurring state/church violations: Christian-based prayers played over the school's loudspeaker system at high school football games and scheduling Christian prayer at annual graduation ceremonies.

"The Supreme Court has continually struck down formal teacher or school-led prayer in public schools," noted Rebecca Markert, staff attorney at the Foundation, which has over 15,500 members nationwide. The courts "have struck down prayer in public schools because it constitutes a government-endorsement of religion, which violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment."

Even when pre-game invocations are student-initiated, the Supreme Court has "reasoned that because the football game was still a school-sponsored event, the fact that a student was leading the prayer did not cure the constitutional violation," because, Markert pointed out, a reasonable observer would "perceive it as state endorsement of religion."

Public schools must remain "secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students," said Markert.

The Foundation's letter asked the district to take immediate steps to correct the violations, ensuring "that a prayer, an invocation, or a benediction are not scheduled for any part of next year's graduation ceremony or any district athletic events."

"The constitutional violation at Soddy Daisy High School is compounded because students and faculty are subjected to listening to antiintellectual prayers over the loudspeakers at the school," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-president. "This is an insult to reason and to separation between religion and government. So much for thinking for oneself!"

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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