Tennessee school to cease game prayers
The Associated Press
October 20, 2010
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. A public high school in southeastern Tennessee will no longer allow prayer to be uttered over loudspeakers before football games, following a complaint.
Principal John Maynard said Wednesday that he would follow the order to halt the prayers issued by Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Jim Scales.
Scales told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he sent the e-mail restricting public prayer at football games on Tuesday.
“Now that we have citizens in our community protesting, we need to notify our principals to follow the law based on numerous court cases,” he said.
He said he will also discuss the issue with the district’s legal counsel.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation — a Madison, Wis.-based group that promotes separation of church and state — sent a letter of complaint to Scales, the Chattanooga Free Press reported.
Staff attorney Rebecca Markert said the letter to Scales was sent last week after some students at the high school objected to Christian prayers over the school’s public address system.
She asked the school to investigate and take steps to “remedy this serious and flagrant violation of the First Amendment.”
The prayers have supporters who argue it was part of school tradition. Rhonda Thurman, who is on the Hamilton County Board of Education, said anyone who didn’t want to hear the prayers could “put their fingers in their ears.”
But Annie Laurie Gaylor, director and co-president of the foundation, said several U.S. Supreme Court cases found prayer before football games and graduation ceremonies to be unconstitutional.
“Students are a captive audience, they’re required to go to school,” she said. “When there is a violation like a prayer at a school, they’re really vulnerable; it’s a violation of their civil rights,” she said.
One area parent, Jim Rogers, whose son is manager of the football team at East Hamilton School, said he thinks that public prayer falls under his free speech rights.
“Our country was founded on the principle of religious suffrage and the freedom to express that religion,” he said.
While prayer may be a tradition at the school’s football games, changing populations in the area could push against the status quo, said David Eichenthal, president of the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies.
“As Chattanooga and (Hamilton County) continue to grow, the more we view things to open us up to that diversity, the stronger our region will be,” he said. “To the extent that we make people uncomfortable or feel out of place who come to the community, that could have an impact.”