A bit of a controversy erupted recently when a Facebook posting of Bismarck St. Mary’s and Kindred football teams praying after a playoff game on Saturday went viral. The post claimed that the North Dakota High School Activities Association has banned public prayer at games.
The association has since clarified that they only prohibit prayer done over the public address system during playoff games. Private schools are allowed to read a prayer over the public system during regular season games. Why that distinction matters, I have no idea.
Anyway, I can now report that Shanley High School, a Catholic school in Fargo, has retained the Thomas More Law Center to challenge the NDHSAA’s prohibiton on the prayers.
The letter refutes the claim from the NDHSAA that PA prayers can’t be allowed at postseason games because the NDHSAA itself is the host of the game and as a public entity cannot allow prayer.
“This “sponsorship” is illusory; in all material respects, Shanley will be hosting the game exactly as it does in the regular season—it will, for example, run ticket sales, organize and sell concessions, provide an announcer to announce the game, and provide down markers, for example,” the letter states.
You can read the entire document below. As of right now it appears as though this is just a request that the policy prohibiting the prayer be rescinded, though given that they’re claiming that 1st amendment rights are being violated here, I suspect that if the NDHSAA refuses there will be legal action.
I’m an atheist, so I don’t really have much of a dog in this fight, but I’ve never understood why the “separation of church and state” doctrine is interpreted as the need to expunge all religion from the public square. To me the freedom of religion doesn’t mean the freedom from religion. No American citizen can be forced to adhere to any given religious doctrine, nor should any flavor of religious belief be elevated by the government above others. That said, in a free society we have to recognize that religious people exist and have a right to exercise their religion in public.
A prayer at a football game held at a religious school doesn’t seem at all unreasonable to me. It’s hard to imagine how anyone’s rights are violated by that.