Alabama School District Sacks Prayer at Football Games — and Parents Fight Back

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a complaint and school officials caved to their demands. This time, parents take matters in their own hands.

By Nancy Flory Published on October 4, 2018

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is once again attacking prayer at school. This time, the atheist group filed a complaint against Blount County School District in Alabama for allowing students to pray before football games. The school district caved to FFRF’s demands, but parents are fighting back.

Blount County Banned Prayer

The FFRF argued that praying over the loud speakers was the same as a government endorsement of religion and a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. According to CBS42, Blount County Superintendent Rodney Green said they made the decision against prayer after talking with their attorneys.

“The complaint alleges that because we are doing that over the PA system, that it is inappropriate,” Green said. “That is something that we have had to go back and examine, and we have decided to go back and make a change in that practice.”

Parents Fighting Back — With Prayer

Parent Scott Williamson told ABC3340 that his first reaction was a human one: aggravation. “Pondering that and thinking about that, that is probably not the right reaction. My next reaction was actually that this is an awesome opportunity for a positive message to come out. Not a negative one.”

And it has been. Gregg Armstrong, parent and the county revenue commissioner, said he and other Christians decided to say the Lord’s Prayer during the secular moment of silence.

“We are not doing this by any way to be negative or anything like that,” he explained. “We are just doing this with love and doing what we feel like God has called us to do. I believe if you have 1,000 people in those bleachers saying the Lord’s Prayer vocally, not over a PA system, that is probably going to be a little bit more moving than just one person praying. There is strength in numbers, and certainly, everyone has the right to do what they want to, but we feel like we should take this stand.”

‘We Believe’

Local churches worked together to create 1,000 “We Believe” t-shirts that also sport the Lord’s Prayer on the back. They gave them away before the next game — but ran out.

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AL.com reported that the crowd at the high school football game appeared to be wearing a “sea of green” “We Believe” shirts. “I’ve never been more proud (to be from Blount County)” Armstrong told AL.com in an interview after the game. Armstrong, who also serves as a music minister at Locust Fork Baptist Church, said hearing the crowd recite the Lord’s Prayer was a “moving moment.”

A young believer was interviewed just after the Lord’s Prayer was recited at a recent game:


 
In a Facebook post, Armstrong said, “Three of the most important things to the folks in our state? Faith, family and football. On Friday night, the folks in Locust Fork made a resounding rebuke to the Freedom From Religion Foundation and a clear message to America: No one is going to take their faith away.”

Armstrong also posted that he was proud of his community and county. “You can take the mic away but you can’t take Jesus from our hearts!! One of the most amazing weeks and night I have ever witnessed!! Truly AWESOME!! God is Good!”


 

A Facebook group in support of prayer before games in Blount County was created after the prayer ban. It’s called “We Will Not Be Silenced.” It has almost 7,500 members.

To paraphrase an old line, “Praise the Lord and pass the football … “

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  • Why is this hard?

    Imagine that the coach had been Muslim or Hindu or Scientologist. Would you be OK with him encouraging prayer? Sure, the players weren’t literally forced to pray with him, but what player wants to annoy his coach?

    The same First Amendment that prevents Christian prayers in school also protects Christians from all those *other* prayers. Isn’t that a win for everyone?

    If you want to pray, you have plenty of places to pray. You really need to coerce the government (in the form of the school) into this?

    • Bryan

      No idea why it’s hard for you. It’s the parents and students that are praying not the board. So the government is not forcing the prayer, nor is it establishing a religion.
      In your imaginary situation, the coach could pray his own way as well.
      The establishment clause is not meant to prevent the church from participating in the state. It’s meant to prevent the state from establishing a national compulsory religion. How is praying by citizens of the state coercing other citizens to join a religion? You can’t catch a religion like a contagious disease. Does it make some people uncomfortable? Where is there a right to be comfortable? Are not people capable of making up their own minds about what God to follow or not? If they’re not, then they are clearly not capable of the other responsibilities and privileges of being an adult in a free society.
      There are plenty of places to pray. Every square foot of this earth and beyond.

      • It’s the parents and students that are praying not the board. So the government is not forcing the prayer, nor is it establishing a religion.

        The article said, “praying over the loud speakers.” The school is involved.

        In your imaginary situation, the coach could pray his own way as well.

        You’re right—no coach is mentioned. My mistake.

        The establishment clause is not meant to prevent the church from participating in the state. It’s meant to prevent the state from establishing a national compulsory religion.

        And how does the church participate if “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”? The government (in this case, the school) can’t get involved in religion.

        How is praying by citizens of the state coercing other citizens to join a religion?

        Then let me challenge you again: let’s cycle through prayers at the football game. This Friday it’s Muslim, then Scientology, then Hindu, and then Christian. Are you OK with that?

        Does it make some people uncomfortable?

        Not the point. The government can’t get involved with religion. I’m amazed that you find that a problem. Pray all you want, just don’t coerce the government in participating. Isn’t that a win-win?

        • Bryan

          “The article said, “praying over the loud speakers.” The school is involved.”

          Who is praying? Is it the board? That’s the government part of the school. No? So it’s a student, parent, or teacher. Aren’t they private citizens? It’s the schools equipment so maybe there’s something there. But then why would a school allow a church to rent out their building on a Sunday or Saturday evening? I have no idea if that happens at the particular school in this article or any other school in that county. But I do know it happens in many schools across the country. Those churches are using some piece of school equipment for their services. So that can’t be it.

          “And how does the church participate if “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”?”

          Let’s breakdown your quote of the 1st Amendment. First, it’s short. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”. So the stipulation is on Congress to not create a state religion, not on the church to not practice their religion publicly. If it’s not clear from your portion of the text, it is clear in the remainder: “…or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Is the school establishing a religion if they allow a prayer? One can certainly twist their brain enough to make themselves feel that way. FFRF surely does. But that does not make it an actual establishment of a religion. That’s why many times, FFRF does not actually sue a school board. They generally hope to silence dissent from their position based on the threat of a suit, whether or not they have a real case or not.

          “The government (in this case, the school) can’t get involved in religion.”
          This is just not true. They regulate taxes or tax exempt status. As mentioned earlier, schools routinely allow churches to meet in their buildings on the weekend or in the evening when school is not meeting. So government is involved in religion.

          “Then let me challenge you again: let’s cycle through prayers at the football game. This Friday it’s Muslim, then Scientology, then Hindu, and then Christian. Are you OK with that?”

          If this is the only solution that works, then so be it. But that does not answer the question I asked: “How is praying by citizens of the state coercing other citizens to join a religion?” The simple answer is that prayer is not coercion.

          “‘Does it make some people uncomfortable?’
          Not the point. The government can’t get involved with religion. I’m amazed that you find that a problem. Pray all you want, just don’t coerce the government in participating. Isn’t that a win-win?”

          It is the point actually, because if it didn’t make people uncomfortable, no one would complain. They would be fine with a live and let live situation.

          • “The article said, “praying over the loud speakers.” The school is involved.”
            Who is praying? Is it the board? That’s the government part of the school. No? So it’s a student, parent, or teacher. Aren’t they private citizens? It’s the schools equipment so maybe there’s something there.

            Bingo. And it’s a school function.

            But then why would a school allow a church to rent out their building on a Sunday or Saturday evening?

            Yes, schools can be used that way, but (1) the school must be available equally (either to any church or to no churches) and (2) a church service isn’t an official school function.

            So the stipulation is on Congress to not create a state religion, not on the church to not practice their religion publicly.

            I agree with you that it’s no imposition on churches, though I think the constraint on “Congress” (actually, any part of government) is broader.

            Is the school establishing a religion if they allow a prayer?

            First question to ask: Is the school open to any prayer from any religion? If not, then perhaps you see the problem.

            One can certainly twist their brain enough to make themselves feel that way. FFRF surely does.

            They’re doing you a favor. Religion must stay out of schools. Isn’t that a benefit for the Christian as well as the atheist??

            They regulate taxes or tax exempt status.

            Do they make special allowances for Christianity, or is this done in a way that benefits no particular religion?

            “Then let me challenge you again: let’s cycle through prayers at the football game. This Friday it’s Muslim, then Scientology, then Hindu, and then Christian. Are you OK with that?”
            If this is the only solution that works, then so be it.

            You’ve seen the Christmas problem, right? There’s only a Christian display on the city hall grounds at Christmas, and people protest (rightfully). It’s all or nothing.

            But that does not answer the question I asked: “How is praying by citizens of the state coercing other citizens to join a religion?” The simple answer is that prayer is not coercion.

            Sure, it’s not coercion. Having a Muslim prayer to open class every morning isn’t coercion by the same logic, but I don’t like it. How about you?

            It is the point actually, because if it didn’t make people uncomfortable, no one would complain. They would be fine with a live and let live situation.

            First, make clear to everyone that you’d be happy with equal access. Friday night it’s a Muslim prayer, and so on through a bunch of religions, including Christianity.

            Second, don’t you see how this puts Christianity in a bad light? Christians think that their religion is so weak that they must shanghai the government to help them support it? Christian prayers at any school function is not only unfair, but it makes Christians look bad.

        • tether

          If you interpretation of the establishment clause was correct then why did George Washington have his Congress go with him to the chapel to pray after he was sworn in?
          Surely if the establishment clause was intended to keep religion out of our government our first president would have known and certainly the authors and signers of the constitution were still alive and would have put a stop to it.

          • If you interpretation of the establishment clause was correct then why did George Washington have his Congress go with him to the chapel to pray after he was sworn in?

            Have George do that today. I think the interpretation of the Constitution today would say that that is out of bounds.

          • tether

            Not out of bounds according to the constitution as written.

          • tether

            This is why we need conservative judges in the supreme court

          • Golly … I dream of the day when that would be possible. Heck, even one conservative justice would be a nice.

            Ah, well–someday, maybe.

          • It’s had amendments, FYI.

          • tether

            So do tell, which amendment banned Government officials from praying

          • I know of zero amendments banning government officials from praying. They can pray at home, in their car, in church–heck, they can pray in lots of places.

            Praying as part of their job, however, is restricted by the First Amendment.

            And who could have any problem with that? It protects all of us from prayers coming from the government: Muslim prayers, Hindu prayers, Scientology prayers, …

          • tether

            Then why do they have a pastor to lead confess in prayer?
            The establishment clause has everything to do with the Government not establishing a national church and nothing to do with prohibiting government officials from freely exercising their right to worship on or off the clock.
            This nation was founded by a mostly Christian populous, and in their wisdom they framed the constitution and its amendments to protect our right to worship and not have a government run church.

          • Then why do they have a pastor to lead [Congress] in prayer?

            Great question. I can only imagine that it’s because no action is required on the part of Congress.

            The establishment clause has everything to do with the Government not establishing a national church and nothing to do with prohibiting government officials from freely exercising their right to worship on or off the clock.

            Which is precisely what we’re not talking about.

          • Kevin Quillen

            You do realize don’t you that the Congress opens with a prayer. There is a congressional chaplain. So, tell me….how does a civil servant praying establish a religion? I actually believe that a public profession of faith in Christ should be required to hold any public office. Like the colonial governments did. “Our form of government is for a religious people and is wholly unsuitable for any other” I think this was said by Madison. Could be wrong on who but it was one of the founders.

          • You were asleep during Government class, I suppose? Maybe it’s just been a long time.

            One of America’s greatest contributions to the world was a secular constitution. The Constitution itself (without amendments) says nothing about religion (in contrast to other countries of the time) except to prohibit a religious test for public office like you propose.

            How unconvincing is your religion that government must be pressed into service to support it??

          • Kevin Quillen

            Why Bob, do the founders all agree that our rights come from the Creator? Because if this were not the case then it would mean that our rights are given by man. If so, then those rights can be taken away, right? The religious underpinnings cannot be discounted. To do so puts us at the mercy of the powers that be to determine our rights and freedoms. This is what is happening today because the progressives do not acknowledge God as our Creator. Therefore they are fine with making “new” rights, and denying those guaranteed by the Constitution. You know where this will lead don’t you Bob? Tyranny. Why do you think the first amendment was included? Why do you think the progressives want to take it away?

          • Why Bob, do the founders all agree that our rights come from the Creator?

            Oh, dear. Someone doesn’t understand the different between an important historical document (the Declaration of Independence) and a governing document, like the US Constitution.

            In the 1700s, what do you think “Creator” meant? (Hint: it was probably not Yahweh.)

            Because if this were not the case then it would mean that our rights are given by man.

            Go shoot someone. When you’re in prison, ask yourself who took your right to freedom away.

            If so, then those rights can be taken away, right?

            Sure. Does this surprise you?

            The religious underpinnings cannot be discounted.

            1. You can say that God gives/creates various rights, but that’s just your theology. You can believe what you want, but that doesn’t make it true. You need evidence. I’m an atheist, and I see very little.

            2. Christians can’t even agree among themselves on the principles of their own religion! Pick a social issue (abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, and so on) and you’ll find Christians on all sides.

            To do so puts us at the mercy of the powers that be to determine our rights and freedoms. This is what is happening today because the progressives do not acknowledge God as our Creator.

            This is a secular country, governed by a secular Constitution. The buck stops with the Constitution, not the Bible.

            Therefore they are fine with making “new” rights, and denying those guaranteed by the Constitution.

            What Constitutional rights are you denied when someone has a same-sex marriage?

            You know where this will lead don’t you Bob? Tyranny. Why do you think the first amendment was included? Why do you think the progressives want to take it away?

            I know zero progressives who want the First Amendment taken away. Who would?? It gives me freedom as well.

            Get out of your bunker. Watch something other than Fox News. Ask progressives themselves what they think; don’t take conservatives media’s word for it.

          • Kevin Quillen

            So then Bob, you would be alright with this scenario…….Christians organize, pool billions of dollars and elect Christian candidates, pass laws that outlaw same sex marriage, abortion, tranny rights, and put mandatory Bible reading in school? Based on your previous post, all this would be ok with you because rights can be given and taken away by government. Therefore, based on our “secular” system, you would be happy to oblige the majority, correct? See the problem yet Bob? Checkmate.
            By the way Bob, Christianity and Christian principles are the only reason you have any rights. Where does the concept that even the King has limits on his power come from?

          • So then Bob, you would be alright with this scenario…….Christians organize, pool billions of dollars and elect Christian candidates, pass laws that outlaw same sex marriage, abortion, tranny rights, and put mandatory Bible reading in school? Based on your previous post, all this would be ok with you because rights can be given and taken away by government.

            No, not alright, but that’s how it goes sometimes. Suppose trends continue and the US becomes some sort of fascist dictatorship. It’s possible (a lot more possible now than I would have dreamed 3 years ago). Would you like that? Probably not. But what does that teach us?

            Therefore, based on our “secular” system, you would be happy to oblige the majority, correct? See the problem yet Bob?

            I do see the problem: you don’t understand how the Constitution works. The Bill of Rights (I’ll wait while you look that up) was designed to prevent the tyranny of the majority from imposing on the minority. “Majority rules” is a poor summary of how it works in this country.

            By the way Bob, Christianity and Christian principles are the only reason you have any rights.

            Yeah? Take the Bill of Rights and show me the Bible precedents. Show me how the Bible advocates for democracy. Show me how it is a bold defender of civil rights.

          • Kevin Quillen

            We live in a Constitutional Republic. We use democracy to establish what the will of the people is. The majority rules until the majority wishes to violate the foundation. What is the foundation? The principles of the Republic. Where do those principles come from? They come from that fact that the founders believed that there was a Creator God who endowed His creation(mankind) with certain rights that not even the government or the majority, can override.
            Now as to amendments. Great idea from the founders. It is difficult to do for a reason. The problem is not with amendments, it is with interpreting the Constitution incorrectly. For example….where, in the Constitution is the provision for government having the right to force me to buy health insurance? It is not there Bob. According to the 10th amendment, it is an issue the states could take up if it were desired by the citizens of said state. Where in the Constitution is the federal government given the right to change the traditional meaning of marriage? It is not there Bob. Again, 10th amendment Bob. How long will it be before three people want to marry? or more? How could you prevent this? Now that the precedent is set that the government can force us to buy a product, what next? Life insurance? A new car every so often to keep our economy growing? Where does it end once you open the door? As to the Bible and civil rights….Go back to the Magna Carta. Even the King had limits. why? BIBLE! GOD!

          • Where do those principles come from? They come from that fact that the founders believed that there was a Creator God who endowed His creation(mankind) with certain rights that not even the government or the majority, can override.

            “Congress derives its just powers from the consent of the governed,” not from God.

            You’d think that if God were the foundation, they’d say so in the Constitution. The Declaration of Independence is an important historical document, but it doesn’t govern the country—the Constitution does. There was a faction within the founding fathers who wanted such an explicit appeal to God, but they had their chance and they lost. The Constitution is secular.

            where, in the Constitution is the provision for government having the right to force me to buy health insurance?

            Where, in the Constitution, is the provision for government having the right to force me to pay for a very, very large defense?

            Where in the Constitution is the federal government given the right to change the traditional meaning of marriage?

            Where in the Constitution is the federal government obliged to support only the traditional meaning of marriage?

            And keep in mind that “the traditional meaning of marriage,” at least according to the Good Book, is polygamy.

            You seem to imagine that marriage has had one definition since forever. In my own life, it’s been changed well before Obergefell: mixed-race marriage is now legal, divorce is much easier, marital rape is a thing. Even now, the state-by-state rules are different (waiting period, blood test, can you marry your cousin?, and so on).

            How long will it be before three people want to marry? or more?

            Wow. If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get gay married. Problem solved; you’re welcome.

            How could you prevent this? Now that the precedent is set that the government can force us to buy a product, what next? Life insurance?

            The government forces warning labels on cigarette packages. Most states make you wear a helmet on a motorcycle. I can’t buy a car without the added expense of air bags and seat belts. Maybe you’re protected by God’s magic, but I’m not, so I’m not complaining.

            As to the Bible and civil rights….Go back to the Magna Carta. Even the King had limits. why? BIBLE! GOD!

            I noticed you avoided the challenge before, which makes me want to ask it again: Take the Bill of Rights and show me the Bible precedents. Show me how the Bible advocates for democracy. Show me how it is a bold defender of civil rights. Show me how it’s a defender of monogamy!

          • Kevin Quillen

            “The government forces warning labels on cigarette packages. Most states make you wear a helmet on a motorcycle. I can’t buy a car without the added expense of air bags and seat belts. Maybe you’re protected by God’s magic, but I’m not, so I’m not complaining.”
            What’s the matter Bob, you cannot decide for yourself whether smoking is good or bad for you? You need big government to decide for you whether to wear a helmet, wear a seatbelt etc.? Where does it end Bob? Government dictates your ideal weight, forces you to take vitamins, vaccinations? I am old enough to remember the lost concept of rugged individualism. I live my life following it. I can actually take care of myself. The Bible actually teaches one to do this. That is why public schools were founded, so children could learn to read the Bible and become good citizens. On marriage… Matt 19:5. I am done with you Bob, just continue being a sheeple, depend on your uncle sam to take care of you. Good luck Bob, I do not know your age but if you are young, you will regret your acquiescence to the progressives. They have no boundaries.

          • So you’d like to avoid my points about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution? Too hot to handle?

            What’s the matter Bob, you cannot decide for yourself whether smoking is good or bad for you?

            You’re adorable! You think that people actually weigh the health consequences of smoking, and smokers smoke because they have concluded that it’s good for them?

            You need big government to decide for you whether to wear a helmet, wear a seatbelt etc.?

            Well, I must say that you give a good account for Christian love. More people getting hurt and increasing health care costs and passing that burden onto you doesn’t bother you. I’m impressed.

            I noticed you avoided the challenge before, which makes me want to ask it again: Take the Bill of Rights and show me the Bible precedents. Show me how the Bible advocates for democracy. Show me how it is a bold defender of civil rights. Show me how it’s a defender of monogamy!

            It sounds like you don’t think you’re winning the conversation anymore so you’re leaving. I agree that we’re not going anywhere. But I’ll leave these unanswered challenges in the hope that they assist others.

          • Kevin Quillen

            BINGO! The Constitution today is MISINTERPRETED. George Washington also put Chaplains in the armed forces. He presided over the Constitutional convention. He heard all the arguments, understood what the founders were trying to accomplish. Read it slowly with understanding……CONGRESS shall not establish a religion(national, like the church of England), nor PROHIBIT the FREE EXERCISE thereof. Not hard to understand. We should collectively, tell the FFRF to take a flying leap and ignore their threats. Period. Simply refuse to answer any letter and or summons. Simply refuse to participate. The community can decide what it’s standards are. If one does not like it, then one can move! I think the 10th amendment applies here.

          • The Bill of Rights is supposed to protect the minority against the tyranny of the majority. Government can’t hold any one religion up to the detriment of all. Tell the school that they need to rotate prayers through religions or have no prayers at all.

          • Kevin Quillen

            Read it again Bob, CONGRESS! CONGRESS is not involved here. Local governments can do what they want. Subject to state government approval. 10th amendment Bob. Congress cannot establish a national religion. However, a state could establish a state religion if the majority of the people in that state wanted too. The Constitution is basically worthless today because once it was determined to be a “living” document it’s authority was lost. This is why we have queer marriage, tranny issues, and abortion. This is truth.

          • CONGRESS is not involved here. Local governments can do what they want. Subject to state government approval. 10th amendment Bob.

            14th Amendment, Kevin.

            When you see “Congress,” read “government.” Otherwise, states could just say, “Sure, if the federal government doesn’t want to have slaves, that’s fine. But here in Alabama, we do things differently.”

            This is why we have queer marriage, tranny issues, and abortion. This is truth.

            Ah, wouldn’t it be nice if we could go back to a good old Christian theocracy like before the kings in the Old Testament—is that what you’re saying? With 45,000 denominations, Christians can’t even figure out this “truth” among themselves.

            The Constitution is a secular document. It created the first secular country. This is a good thing for Christians. You have freedom of religion, plus you know that the government will never be corralled into subjecting you to religion (Shinto prayers in school, “Allahu Akhbar” in Arabic above the wall in the city council chambers, and so on).

            Stop complaining. If you don’t want a same-sex marriage, don’t have one.

          • Kevin Quillen

            “When you see “Congress,” read “government.”
            I’ll stick with original intent. The Constitution is not a living document. Therein lies the problem.

          • Dang! If only there were a way to amend it. Y’know, with amendments.

    • Analytical Guy

      Methuselah, if the prayer had been Muslim, cowardly atheists like you would say NOTHING at all. Not a peep.

      You only hate one religion. You’re too spineless and effeminate to dare say a word against the religion that beheads infidels. Just bash the one religion you know won’t harm you.

      • Uh, yeah. It’s like you’re looking into my very soul. How do you do that?

        • Analytical Guy

          What soul?

  • Garden of Love

    Good for the parents. Take a stand and resist.

  • Tom Rath

    Good on everyone’s part.

  • Kevin Quillen

    Let’s organize and send FFRF millions of emails everyday. Overwhelm their email so they cannot sort through find the requests for help the the atheists and commies send them. In the subject line we could put something like “Your help is needed” and then in the email say that their help is needed to save America by their leaving Christians alone. Legal harmless way to fight back.

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