GARDENDALE, Ala. (WIAT) — High school football is in full swing, but there are some new questions surrounding prayer before the games.
Earlier this year, the Jefferson County School Board banned school led prayers over the loud speakers; but a student led pre-game prayer was held over the PA system for all to hear at Gardendale High School’s first home game of the season.
Gardendale mayor Stan Hogeland, says in their community, prayer is simply expected before every football game.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation says school sponsored prayers over loud speakers at school functions led by faculty or staff is unconstitutional.
Back in June The Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Texas high school coach who was fired after refusing to stop praying at the 50 yard line after games. In his opinion, Justice Neal Gorsuch says coach Joseph Kennedy was acting as private citizen.
FFRF Attorney Chris Line says school events should never coerce anyone to participate in religious acts like prayer. Line says public schools should be inclusive for everyone regardless of religion.
“It just shouldn’t be an environment where you’re gonna, you know, bring in some heated things like religion and really tie all that in to the school,” said Line. “Our public schools should be for everyone. Every student, regardless of your religion, if you’re non-religious, should feel welcome at the school and at school events.”
Following a complaint from the FFRF in April, Jefferson County Schools banned prayers led by school officials over loudspeakers before games.
When asked to comment on their current stance for this school year, Jefferson County Schools referred us back to their original statement from April, issued before the supreme court’s ruling.
They say the resolution was based on the board’s legal obligations, but they remain committed to respecting and protecting the religious rights of students in a school setting.
Mayor Hogeland says they have worked closely with Jefferson County Schools since their April ruling as prayer before football games is a tradition that is held near and dear to the community.
“We’re a faith based community,” said Hogeland. “Why is prayer important to anyone? In my eyes- now I know there is a few that do not agree, but it’s important to the community that I serve.”
A compromise has now been reached. Instead of faculty or staff, students will continue Gardendale High School’s tradition of prayer before each home football game.
“A lot of times I feel like I’m speaking for our community,” said Hogeland. “In Gardendale, Alabama we expect prayer before the football games. We just do.”
Hogeland says it pleases him greatly to keep their tradition of pre-game prayer alive as it is a part of who Gardendale is as a community.