Summarized by Kent Larsen
Protests Over Football Game Prayer Start in Southern U.S.
BOGUE CHITTO, MISSISSIPPI -- At the urging of christian radio
talk-show host Paul Ott, students in Mississippi, North Carolina,
South Carolina and Arkansas are holding "spontaneous" prayers at high
school football games, in defiance of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling
last June that prohibits school sponsored prayers. The court ruling
came in a case brought by a Mormon family and a Catholic family, who
objected to the support of the majority Baptist religion.
Students at Bogue Chitto High School have organized an effort to pray
in the stands and on the field before their school football games
without any official sanction or support. But the ACLU's David
Ingebretsen claims that the efforts are illegal. "It seems to me
that a planned spontaneous prayer cannot be spontaneous and it
violates the court's ruling," he said. "If this planned, spontaneous
prayer happens, it forces everyone there to hear that prayer or to
participate in it." But the school district's attorney, Jim Keith,
disagrees, "If fans are sitting in the stand, and they want to branch
out and say the Lord's Prayer, or some prayer to Allah or whoever,
they can do that."
The effort is similar to those elsewhere. An Associated Press story
indicates that a group in Asheville, North Carolina is organizing the
"spontaneous" prayers at A.C. Reynolds High School there. They are
also organizing a petition drive to urge Congress to seek a
constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court's decisions
prohibiting organized prayer in the public schools.
Another Associated Press story indicates that other schools are
simply ignoring the ruling, such as Batesburg-Leesville High School
in South Carolina. There the student body president said a prayer
over the stadium's public address system from the press box. In
Hendersonville, North Carolina a protest group called "We Still Pray"
participated in a prayer before the Henderson High School football
game and the school board in Searcy, Arkansas voted to allow a
nonprofit group to hold prayers around a stadium flag pole before
But legal scholars warned the schools that they could be opening
themselves up to lawsuits over the prayers. The ACLU's South Carolina
branch says two students have already complained about the
Batesburg-Leesville High School game, according to LaVerne Neal,
executive director of the ACLU in South Carolina.
Those that practice other faiths, such as Buddhist Nancy Greer of
Greenville, South Carolina, worry that their rights won't be
protected. "It is very difficult to have a totally universal-type
prayer that would be applicable to everyone who might attend a
football game," said Greer.
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