Parents outrage over ban on prayer at high school football game

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A community is outraged after the school system bans a tradition done for decades.

Before every football game at Smiths Station, Alabama high school, a student has said a prayer over the loudspeakers, but going forward, they will no longer be allowed to do so.

That is after a parent contacted the Freedom From Religion Foundation who sent a letter to the school district demanding they stop the prayer.

The group said the issue is not praying before the game, it is how it is being done. The Freedom From Religion Foundation said the school has broken the law by not only allowing students to use school equipment, but to also endorse the prayer by allotting a specific time for it to take place.

Community members, who say they have done this for years, are not happy.

"You know, what's next? We are taking this public prayer away right before a football game. What legislation will come next?" asked Pastor David Kees, Smiths Station Baptist Church.

When it comes to football in the South, traditions are huge.

"And we love our football down here and football is king and you know part of that is that the invocation that we do," said Pastor Kees.

One of Smiths Station High School's longest standing pregame traditions is now banned.

"I always heard the prayer before the game and it's always been to bless the players and hope they had, um, were safe and the parents on their trips home and the coaches and for sportsmanship and stuff," said resident Mike Green.

For decades, a student has led a prayer over the school's speaker before a home football game at Garrett Harrison Stadium in Phenix City, Alabama. But during the first game of the season, the prayer apparently offended a parent in the stands.

That parent contacted the Freedom From Religion Foundation who sent a letter to the school telling them:

“The 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."

"It has never been that somebody forced the kids to do that. It's been kids coming forward to do the prayer and asking to do it and volunteering. And, you know, just because they are using the speaker system of the school shouldn't change that. It's their freedom of speech," said Green.

The law protecting the separation of church and state has been in place for years, but still many here feel like one person's complaint should not outweigh the support from an entire community.

"We just want to keep what we've always been doing at the forefront and look forward to continuing to stand firm in the faith and continue this tradition," said Pastor Kees.

"One person's complaint shouldn't change a tradition that we've had in this community for 50 plus years," said Green.

Smith Station High School is on the road this week, but there is already talk about ways to continue the tradition. Friday night’s game, during the moment of silence, some who will be sitting in the student section said they plan to recite the Lord’s Prayer.