Atheist Group Demands Tenn. School District Halt Prayer at Football Games

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  • prayer
    (Photo courtesy Marion County School District)
    Students, athletes, and others gather to pray during the student-led "Meet me at the 50" event before a football game in Marion County, Tenn.
By Michael Gryboski, Christian Post Reporter
September 6, 2013|3:37 pm

A Wisconsin-based secular group has sent a letter of complaint to a Tenn. school district, arguing that a student led prayer before high school football games is unconstitutional.

Freedom From Religion Foundation sent the letter Wednesday to Marion County schools arguing that the "Meet Me at the 50" prayer event was unconstitutional.

While many considered the new prayer policy for the games to be a compromise, FFRF staff attorney Rebecca Markert argued that it was a "serious and flagrant violation of the First Amendment."

"Meet me at the 50 continues an unconstitutional practice that must be discontinued immediately," wrote Markert.

"Thus, we renew our request that the Marion County Schools take immediate action to stop school-sponsored prayers from occurring before any school-sponsored athletic event."

Mark Griffith, superintendent of schools in the Marion County School District, told The Christian Post that the issue with FFRF derived from a previous prayer practice.

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"The policy that got us into this issue was where we conducted a prayer before the ballgame over our P.A. system that was owned by the school district," said Griffith.

To remedy the situation, explained Griffith, "[we] looked at two options as a district: one being a moment of silence, the other being a student organized prayer that we call Meet Me at the 50."

"We opted as a district (with all three high schools in the county), to go with Meet Me at the 50," said Griffith.

"This was a way that we could still legally conduct the prayer and be more effective in the process, due to the fact of it being student driven."

According to an FFRF press release, the organization found out about the change via a news segment done by local media WTVC NewsChannel 9.

"There's an old saying that says 'Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead,'" said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor in a statement.

"Time and time again in cases like this, we've seen complainants harassed and threatened, sometimes physically, because they stood up for the law, and courts usually allow anonymity in such cases."

When asked by CP is Marion expects legal action, Superintendent Griffith responded that he was unsure.

"To be honest we are uncertain at this time but we still take the stance that no legal action is required because we are within the boundaries of the law," said Griffith.

"We argue and plan to respond that it is legal because this is a great community with great student leaders that have taken this process on themselves to insure that it can be done."

 

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