ACLU, ADF Clash Over Legality of Student-Led Football Game Prayer

Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian nonprofit organization, has sent a legal letter to a Michigan School District assuring them that it's OK for students to engage in prayer at the conclusion of football games, after the American Civil Liberties Union made an attempt to stop the practice.

"There's no legitimate basis for public school officials to shut down students' private religious speech," wrote ADF Litigation Counsel Rory Gray. "Students who express their faith before, during, or after the school day are exercising their constitutional freedoms. Atheist groups are attempting to browbeat schools into believing otherwise."

In February, the ACLU sent a letter to Superintendent Robert Glass and Lahser High School Principal Charlie Hollerith, telling them that it is against the law for a football coach to lead his footballers in Christian prayer at the end of home games.

District spokeswoman Shira Good explained that the law prohibits teachers or anyone in a role of authority from leading students in prayer at any event that they are expected or required to attend, and said that the football game prayers should not be allowed.

"If a teacher is teaching [and] a student wants to pray, the students could not do that during class," Good stated, according to the Detroit Free Press.

She also argued that students are free to pray on their own time without disrupting the school day, but Superintendent Glass said that since Bloomfield Hills Schools is a public district, prayer must not conflict with instruction time, other students, or school-sponsored activities.

In its letter, ADF argued that an investigation found that the football game prayers were entirely student-led and were completely voluntary.

Glass had clarified that the coach was not leading the 11-year prayer tradition but was simply present when the students led the prayer.

"Nothing in the Constitution … prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during, or after the schoolday," said ADF as it listed a number of court cases that back that argument.

It further stated that students are "undoubtedly allowed to express their thoughts about a great victory or stunning loss after a game is complete," and warned the district that it must not ban such choices.

"The District's failure to honor these principles appears to result from a fundamental miscomprehension of the Establishment Clause, which guarantees that "[s]tate power is no more used ... to handicap religions, than it is to favor them," ADF noted.

The school district has agreed to allow students to voluntarily pray after football games.

ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco concluded: "The Constitution should be the only permission slip students need to exercise their freedom of speech. We commend the school for not caving to the ACLU's unwarranted demands, but urge them to amend their outdated policies so that this does not happen in the future and students' religious speech is protected."