FFRF’s halting of Ohio public school prayer proves religion’s divisiveness

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has ensured a halt to constitutionally out-of-bounds praying at a school district in Ohio.

Two concerned local citizens informed FFRF that prayer was regularly scheduled at school-sponsored events in the West Branch Local School District. At a varsity basketball game last month at West Branch High School, for instance, a prayer was delivered over the loudspeaker after the national anthem was played. Those in attendance were asked to remain standing for this Christian prayer. Reportedly, prayers were often taking place at sporting events and holiday events in the district, with the principal delivering the prayer or inviting a pastor to do so.

"It is illegal for a public school to sponsor religious messages at school athletic events," FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert wrote to West Branch Local School District Superintendent Timothy Saxton. "The Supreme Court has continually struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools. Moreover, the Supreme Court has specifically struck down invocations given over the loudspeaker at public school athletic events."

Not only was the West Branch Local School District endorsing these prayers by allotting time for them at the start of games, but it was also providing the prayer-giver with the public address system needed to impose these prayers on all students and community members at games, FFRF added. Public school events must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students, it asserted.

The West Branch Local School District proved to be receptive to FFRF's reasoning.

"A Mahoning County school district temporarily called a stop to prayers before sporting events after it was challenged by a national group that said it had received complaints," reported Cleveland.com. "West Branch Schools Superintendent Tim Saxton posted a letter on the district's Facebook page saying prayers will no longer be allowed before athletic events 'until the situation is resolved.'" 

Unfortunately, the circumstances that have arisen out of the original constitutionally violating practice have created unnecessary strains in the community.

"Students at a northeast Ohio high school say a recent ban by administrators of prayers before athletic events is causing tension," states an Associated Press story. "The Vindicator reports one West Branch High School student says the divide created between those supporting and opposing prayers at the public school in Beloit is 'kind of a like a civil war.'" 

This reinforces the point that FFRF has made over and over again: Religion is a divisive force that has no place in public schools.

"West Branch officials created this acrimonious state of affairs by hosting unconstitutional prayer at public school events," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Now we see the majority in the school district trying to force its religious belief on the minority."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 32,000 members and 20 chapters across the country, including over 800 members and a chapter in Ohio. FFRF's purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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