Back in 2015 there was a controversy over prayer at high school sports events here in North Dakota. At the time a Facebook posting of the 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, and the players themselves can pray as they please.
The prohibition on prayer during playoff games is that the NDHSAA rents the facilities for those games. Which is a point Rep. Marvin Nelson (D-Rolla) brought up while debating HB1275 which would allow the prayers at playoff games to happen.
“It’s because a unit of the state of North Dakota has rented their facility,” Nelson said of the prohibition on prayers.
“I think we’re better off just leaving it as it is,” he added, going on to say that the state might “really be asking for trouble” if the bill passes. I’m assuming the “trouble” he’s talking about is a lawsuit of some sort of activist group.
Rep. Kim Koppelman, a West Fargo Republican and the bill’s sponsor, rebutted Nelson by pointing out that there is routinely prayer at one type of publicly-sponsored gathering. “As far as I know the State of North Dakota owns this facility,” he said, gesturing to the House chamber, “and if I remember correctly we started today with a prayer over the PA system.”
He has a point.
I take issue with those who think that the doctrine of separating church from state must include driving religious expression from the public square. That’s not tolerance. That’s not liberty.
What is in keeping with those ideals is accepting that many people in our society are religious, that they have a right to their faith, and that the rest of us are just going to have to tolerate the fact that they’ll express that faith in public at times.
If you’re attending a sports game at a religious school you might hear a prayer. If there are people in the world who want to file a lawsuit over that sort of thing, well, I think that’s exactly the sort of intolerance our state ought to be fighting.