The Lowndes County School Board of Education has found a legal way to allow prayer before Friday football games following complaints from an atheist organization.
Under the old policy, Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Ga., allowed student-led public prayer before its football games. But the high school had omitted the prayer since last week after the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a group for atheists, agnostics, and skeptics, complained that this was illegal.
In a letter, the organization said the school 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.”
On Monday, Sept. 16, the Board of Education settled on a new policy allowing students to present whatever they desire before the football game, from a song to a poem or a prayer, WCTV-TV reported.
The policy was adopted in its first reading in a crowded meeting Monday night. Many parents and fans cheered and praised as the new policy was passed.
Although the board said the policy could go into effect immediately, it still must be approved in a second reading next month.
Board Chairman Dave Clark said, “We knew coming in after our meeting last week that we had to put some work on it because our constituents were not going to let us say no way.”
Joe Copeland, one of those constituents, applauded the board for not backing down.
“God won,” said Copeland. “That was the whole plan all along. I think it’s awesome that we’ve got kids in school that want to pray to God and attend church.”
The policy states students will be chosen “based on academics and program.”
Darrell Presley, president of the Viking Touchdown Club said, “South Georgia is in the middle of the Bible Belt. Religion is a very strong thing in this part of the country and it’s one of the things that you do.”
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a policy permitting student-led, student-initiated prayer at high school football games violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment in its 2000 decision, Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe. But the court’s makeup has changed since that 6-3 decision. It appears more are open to permitting religious expression in a public square.
Lowndes High School is known for its success in football, having won five state championships, including in 2004, 2005, and 2007.