By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG
Bradley Central High School is facing controversy after allowing prayer to be broadcast over the loudspeaker to help kick off a football game.
A formal complaint has been made to the Freedom From Religion Foundation on the grounds that exposing students to such religious speech is “a constitutional violation.”
The complainant, who wishes to remain anonymous, is a current employee of Bradley County Schools.
Christopher Line, a legal fellow with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, recently sent a letter of complaint to Scott Bennett, attorney for the county school district, on this employee’s behalf.
The complainant shared with the Cleveland Daily Banner a video which was reportedly taken at the BCHS football game on Oct. 13, 2017. In it, a student is given the opportunity to lead the crowd in a Christian prayer.
“If everyone would rise and remove your hats, we’ll have an invocation from Miss Jennah Pritchard,” the announcer said.
Pritchard, a student, then said a brief prayer over the loudspeaker, beginning with a request to “please bow your heads.” She thanked God for allowing everyone to arrive at the game safely and asked that the football players would have “safety and great sportsmanship.”
While it was a student who delivered the invocation, the complainant took issue with the fact such a prayer was being broadcast at a public school in the first place.
In the letter to Bennett, Line referenced the U.S. Supreme Court case “Santa Fe Independent School District vs. Doe.” The court ruled in 2000 that a Texas high school could not allow prayers to be broadcast over the loudspeaker at football games. This was based on the belief that doing so violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.
Line noted in his letter that the local school district is “endorsing” prayer by allowing time for it at the start of athletic games and “providing the prayer-giver with the public address system needed to impose these prayers on all students and community members at games.”
“This matter is important to me because the Supreme Court ruled 18 years ago that prayer at football games, even if led by students, are not permitted by our Constitution,” the complainant told the Banner.
“I am expected to follow the laws of the land, and I expect the school district to be held to the same standard,” they added. “The school district is flagrantly disregarding the law. If I were to disregard laws, I would face consequences. The school should not be immune from consequences.”
In the letter of complaint, Line said the school district “must take immediate action to end the practice of scheduling prayer at school-sponsored events and end the use of district equipment to project prayers to the public.”
Line asked the district to tell the Freedom From Religion Foundation in writing what it will do to “remedy this serious violation of the First Amendment.”
The complainant said the Oct. 13, 2017, football game was not the first time prayer has occurred at a county school event; prayers have been said at “multiple school events over the course of the past few years.” They added others attending these events have privately said prayer being allowed was “inappropriate.”
Bradley County Director of Schools Dr. Linda Cash indicated Friday afternoon that she was aware of the complaint and said the school district’s attorney was reviewing it.
“I got the letter from FFRF this morning and have not had a chance to speak with officials at Bradley Central High School regarding the allegations,” Bennett said Friday afternoon. “Consequently, it would be premature for anyone with the school system to comment at this time.”
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