‘Our Father. . .’ Prayer prevails at high school football games
By 09/07/2000 00:00:00
Ellis County Press Managing Editor
It's first down and goal to go for prayer at high school football games. After a potentially disheartening goal line stand by the Supreme Court last June, an impromptu prayer movement is tackling the gridiron issue this fall.
Concerned Christians in Texas and numerous other states are saying the Lord's Prayer immediately following the National Anthem at high school football games. Students stood and prayed at last weekend's games despite the high court's ruling.
Although the American Civil Liberties Union is sniffing around the prayer movement for any involvement of school officials — banned by the court's ruling — the American Center for Law and Justice, led by Jay Sekulow, is committing itself to defend any school district sued for permitting spontaneous prayer at games.
While those who prayed seemed to be well within their constitutional rights, most school officials reportedly were carefully to stay out of the way and avert possible charges of school sponsorship.
The prayer movement already has strong backing — the National Day of Prayer Task Force; Donald Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association; and actor Tom Lester, who has played feature roles in several movies and the 'Green Acres' TV series.
A crucial moment in the prayer movement came last Friday, Sept. 1, as football season opened at Santa Fe, Texas, High School in the district used by the ACLU to have student-led pre-game public prayer ruled unconstitutional. 'No Pray, No Play,' a pro-prayer group, attended the Santa Fe game and prayed the Lord's Prayer. The effort has drawn the endorsement of National Day of Prayer Task Force's vice chairman Jim Weidmann.
'The people of Santa Fe simply want to use this game as an opportunity to express their faith, within the confines of the law,' Weidmann.
The Supreme Court ruling this year 'should awaken us to the reality of how we are losing our right to exercise our freedom of religion,' Weidmann said. 'The First Amendment of the Constitution clearly states, ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.' ... Those who attend and participate in saying the Lord's Prayer at the game simply wish to utilize that freedom while they still have it.'
Although Texas' football season opened with last Friday night games, the Lord's Prayer already has been spontaneously voiced at numerous games in North and South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Arkansas to Ohio and New Mexico.
At Reynolds High School in Asheville, N.C., where a community-wide 'We Still Pray' rally Aug. 17 drew national attention to the prayer movement, the voicing of the Lord's Prayer at an Aug. 25 football game made the front page of USA Today. The previous week's rally drew 12,000 people to the school stadium and an estimated 25,000 others who found themselves on jammed roadways unable to get to the gathering.
At a game in Hattiesburg, Miss., a few students began by holding hands in the bleachers and praying, 'Our Father who art in heaven.' By the time they got to 'deliver us from evil,' most of the crowd of 4,500 was standing, reciting the Lord's Prayer, The New York Times reported.
In Forest City, N.C., a radio station is allowing a pastor to say a prayer at the beginning of high school football broadcasts and urging fans at the game to turn up their radios during the prayer.
The American Family Association is promoting the prayer movement on its radio network supplied to 200 Christian stations across the country.
'Of course we know the ACLU will go berserk,' AFA leader Wildmon said in a news release. 'But on the other hand, there is no way the Supreme Court can stop this because it is simply individuals participating on their own without any [school] leader.'
The ACLJ's Sekulow noted, 'Even with the recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding school prayer, there should be no confusion that spontaneous prayer at high school football games is both legal and constitutional.' Sekulow represented the Santa Fe Independent School District in the case filed by the ACLU in behalf of a local Mormon family and a Catholic family.
'It is clear that private student prayer before sporting events is permissible provided that the prayer is not sponsored or endorsed by the school and does not utilize the school's public address system,' Sekulow said. 'As students and members of the community are permitted to stand up and cheer for their team, they are also permitted to stand up and recite a religious statement, including a prayer.'
Sekulow also said, 'If a school district attempts to prohibit or stop these prayers, they may well be engaged in a violation of the constitutional rights of those in attendance. And that may very well trigger legal action against the school district.'
The ACLJ has sent an informational letter outlining the legalities of religious expression in the public schools in light of the Santa Fe decision to superintendents in more than 15,000 public school districts across the country. The letter is available at the ACLJ Internet site at www.aclj.org. The ACLJ phone number at its Virginia Beach, Va., headquarters is (757) 226-2489.
The ACLU is planning its response. The Wall Street Journal quoted the ACLU's David Ingebretsen as saying, 'It seems to me that a planned spontaneous prayer cannot be spontaneous and it violates the court's ruling. If this is planned, spontaneous prayer happens, it forces everyone there to hear that prayer or to participate in it.'
Meanwhile, some schools are continuing to defy the Supreme Court order with student-led prayers over the public-address system, in one case positioning the loud speakers on private property.