Students and parents recited the Lord’s Prayer out loud prior to a football game in Alabama in protest of a ban on student-led prayers over the public address system.
Following the national anthem and coin toss before the football game between Central-Phenix City and Smiths Station on Friday, the fans of both teams stood together in prayer in reaction to a recent announcement from the school district that students will no longer be able to pray publicly over loudspeakers before kickoff.
“That was emotional,” Jennie Sanders, wife of the Smiths Station defensive line coach, said after the prayer. “The kids want to pray. Somebody took that away from them, which is a sad situation,” she added.
Lee County Schools made the decision to end school-sponsored prayer during games after receiving a complaint letter from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which advised the district about its concerns about the separation of church and state.
“It is illegal for a public school to sponsor religious messages at school athletic events. The Supreme Court has continually struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools,” the letter read, according to Fox 5.
The group claimed that it received complaints from a parent regarding a prayer that a student delivered prior to a game on Aug. 25.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Superintendent James McCoy said that he tried to find a way for students to continue leading the prayers, but his efforts were not successful.
“The school system was facing litigation that we felt as though would not rule in our favor, if we continued with prayer over our public address system,” he said in a statement.
William Sanderson, the attorney for Lee County Schools, said he advised the district to comply with the request to end prayers initiated by all school employees, and to end the “use of state resources in a religious context.”
Attorneys for both sides reportedly agreed that student or parent-led prayers are appropriate as long as no school resources are used. However, a spokesperson for FFRF contended that there should be no extra accommodations for anyone organizing a “grassroots” effort to pray, such as modifying the start time of a game.
Following the announcement, a local businessman named Mike Green expressed plans to buy advertisement space on the high school football stadium’s scoreboard and put the Lord’s Prayer on the sign. As of Sept. 26, the GoFundMe campaign to help fund the advertisement has raised $4,050 towards the $5,000 goal.
However, a note on the crowdfunding page indicated that Green will not be allowed to place an advertisement with a religious message within the stadium. The businessman said that he has decided that the funds collected through the crowdfunding account should go to the Smiths Station Fellowship of Christian Athletes.