Group complains about Brooks’ pregame prayers

By Sherhonda Allen
City Editor

The Lauderdale County school district is accused of violating the First Amendment by allowing prayers that invoke Jesus Christ to be broadcast over the loudspeaker before Brooks High School football games and at non-district games played on school property.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation calls the prayers illegal. Organizational representatives have written two letters to the school district on behalf of Lauderdale County resident Jeremy L. Green, who confirmed he filed the complaint with the foundation.

“It is coercive and inappropriate to ask students to listen while a prayer is delivered at athletic events,” Freedom From Religion Foundation staff attorney Stephanie Schmitt said in a news release emailed to the TimesDaily on Monday. “This is especially disturbing given the young age of these students.”

Lauderdale County schools Superintendent Bill Valentine said he has received the complaint.

“We have referred that to our attorney for him to research and to make a response,” Valentine said. “Some of the things they have mentioned are youth ball games that are not ours, but do take place on our campuses.”

Green, in an email response requested by the TimesDaily, said he is not trying to prevent individual Christians from praying, but that the law is clear.

“I am simply taking a stand for the Establishment Clause and the separation of church and state in an effort to protect the constitutional rights of the nonreligious,” he said.

“It is illegal for any public school to organize, sponsor or lead prayer at public athletic events,” said Green, who is a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanists of the Shoals, and American Atheists. “The Supreme Court of the United States of America has continually made rulings which strike down this practice as illegal.

“Student or faculty-led prayer at high school athletic events could be confusing for impressionable children who are raised in nonreligious or non-Christian homes and see the faculty member or student who is leading the prayer as a school sponsored authority figure.

“It is not the job of the public school system to endorse religion.”

Though Green specifically mentioned athletic events, he and the foundation’s representatives have included all school-sponsored events in the complaint.

“We ask that the school district commence an immediate investigation into the complaints alleged and take immediate action to stop any and all prayers occurring before any school-sponsored event,” Schmitt said.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., is a nonprofit group that bills itself as an educational organization and the nation’s largest association of freethinkers, including atheists and agnostics. According to its news release, there are 17,000 members nationwide — 150 in Alabama — and a state chapter, the Alabama Freethought Association.

The foundation lists more than 100 “legal successes” since 2009 on its website.

The organization is the same group that sent a letter to the Arab school system, contending that school district was violating the First Amendment and the rights of one family in the Arab community.

As a result of the letter, Arab Superintendent John Mullins in September ceased pregame prayers at Arab High School football games. Those games now begin with a moment of silence.

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