Sunday, September 4, 2011

Penalty Flag Thrown At Bell County's Prayer Before Football Games

The Bell County school administration has recently ended the tradition of having a minister lead prayer before the public high school football games due to an objection from a group that endorses the separation of church and state. This past Friday was the school’s first home game where “People were kind of jolted when we did the National Anthem and then kicked off”, as said by Bell County Superintendent George Thompson. Kentucky, heavily populated with Christians, has been in the active debate over the separation of church and state. The past disputes between Kentucky and the U.S Supreme Court have been heavily concentrated on the idea of strongly advocating the Ten Commandments in public schools.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison Wisconsin, filed the compliant against Bell County. The Foundation represents the views of non-believers and fights against the promotion of religion through government. Annie Gaylor, the co- president of the foundation, received an email on August fifth regarding the details of the prayers lead before the games. The email read, “ All in attendance are asked to bow their heads and the prayers have Christian overtones.” The anonymous writer found this to be a violation of his or her rights. Rebecca Markert, an attorney for the foundation, sent a letter to Thompson that cited federal court rulings against prayer at school functions. Markert said the prayers at the games represent government endorsement of religion, which is unconstitutional. Thompson looked to fight the demand of ending the prayers, but he was advised that the school system would lose if someone sued them over this issue. The school district has decided to end the prayer and looks to replace it with a moment of silence.

However, after the school’s first game without the prayer, people started to react. Reverend Ray Stepp has led the prayer for almost 20 years and would pray for the safety of the players, protection of the U.S troops and prayed for the people to attend church. Like many other people in the area, he was upset to hear that the tradition was being ended. His wife said, “ It’s sad that one person or two can stop this when there are so many of us wanting this.” The Foundation believed that this issue clearly violates the law and the school is endorsing religion. This group continues to tackle complaints around Kentucky that deal with issues regarding prayers at school-sponsored events.

In my opinion, I strongly disagree with the arguments brought about by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. It was too extreme of the Foundation to banish the prayer all together. There are alternatives ways in which the school can adjust the prayer to exclude the “overtones” of Christianity. For example, I believe the Reverend could take out the “go to church” section of his prayer. In my eyes, the rest of the prayer is concentrated on the safety of the players and the U.S. troops, which does not endorse religious beliefs. The “support our troops” slogan has been commercialized in our society in the form of bumper stickers, flags, ribbons, etc. thus lessening any sense of religion overtone to the slogan. In my opinion, the prayer is more about gratitude and compassion toward the players and the U.S troops than about religion.

Overall, this is a timely debate especially since many groups are advocating against the pledge of allegiance being recited at sporting events. There is the debate over the “under God” portion of the pledge, where people believe there are strong Catholic connotations. This case being brought about in Bell County shows that even the simplest traditions can be misinterpreted and result in the loss of the feeling of togetherness within community.

7 comments:

Harry R. said...

While I understand how Molly could feel that the actions of the Freedom From Religion Foundation may be extreme, I believe that the points they address are valid. There must be no established religion in public school events, and if there are prayers focused on one religion, that is establishment. Tntbo said that the Lord's Prayer was a part of the prayer, a decidedly Christian concept. While the support of the troops and the players is entirely understandable, if the Lord's Prayer is part of this tradition, then the tradition must be changed in order to not establish a religion.

Zoey Goldnick said...

I can appreciate the concern for a loss of togetherness in the community that may have resulted from the banishing of prayer from the school football games. However, it may be possible that there were members of the community who were alienated (rather than brought together) by the presence of a Christian prayer at a school event. This ban does not outlaw a personal time of prayer before the game but rather lets those who did not wish to participate feel as though religion is not being forced upon them. The fans who did wish to pray before a game are still entitled to do so. Perhaps there could be a moment of silence where those who wanted to pray could do so while others could simply wish for a good game.

Jack Ness said...

I happen to disagree with Molly on this topic. Even if the part of the prayer that suggests attendees of the game should also attend church is removed, it is still a prayer. A prayer, by definition, is addressed to God or an object of worship, so therefore it has religious overtones. While I agree and am sympathetic that the togetherness of the community was hurt, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has a point that holds up constitutionally in my opinion.

Grant Z said...

I also side with the Freedom From Religion Foundation on this dispute, though I do respect the fact that this has become something of a tradition in this particular school district. I also believe the school could make the prayer far less overt so that the spirit of the tradition could continue in a more secular fashion. I agree that the "go to church" part should be the first to go in that regard; perhaps the Reverend could lead the moment of silence and people could say their own prayers.

Casey K said...

I must side with the Freedom From Religion Foundation in this argument. The fact that this is a public school means that they cannot perform this prayer before the games. Molly recommends that they edit the prayer to make it less religious, but it would still be a prayer (which makes it inherently religious), and as long as a reverend is leading it, I believe it would be unconstitutional. Any connection to a single religion risks offending others from another faith. I could especially sympathize with players or parents that felt uncomfortable at this event. This prayer did not promote togetherness for the whole community, just for the religious majority. In fact I would think that the prayer promoted divisions between those of other faiths instead. The prayer must go, replacing the reverend with a community leader (who is not an officially recognized religious leader), stating a desire for safety of troops and players followed by a moment of silence could be an acceptable way to try and preserve the togetherness of the community without risking offending anyone in the crowed.

Mike HJ said...

It is unfortunate, because while I do believe that the prayer before the game has the best intentions, it is inherently mixing church and state. This would not be a problem if it was a game between two private schools that did not receieve state funding, however the game involved a public school that does get state funding. I do hope that they institute some sort of replacement blessing (and by blessing I mean a bestowment of good will to others, or a boon - not a prayer) because this act of good heartedness is being tangled in and restrained by the red tape of the American legal system.

Marissa V said...

I believe that both sides can come to a compromise to please everyone. Instead, perhaps the reverend (or another group leader) could lead the group in a moment of silence. This way the people could chose to pray or not while not offending those around them. Even though the prayer had been a tradition for 20 years, times change and people need to accommodate change. The moment of silence or outreach to the troops will be an acceptable compromise for both sides and therefore pleasing the majority.