Prayer at the Center of Debate in Ashdown
Should students be allowed to lead prayers at a high school football game? That debate is heating up in Ashdown, Ark., and has become a topic of national discussion.Superintendent of Ashdown Schools, Jason Sanders, says he has been contacted by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which is based in Wisconsin. The Foundation says that prayers, like the ones that routinely take place at Ashdown's school events like football games, violate the separation of church and state.
"Public schools exist to educate, not to proselytize. Children in public schools are a captive audience. Making prayer an official part of the school day is coercive and invasive.
"Our public schools are for all children, whether Catholic, Baptist, Quaker, atheist, Buddhist, Jewish, agnostic. The schools are supported by all taxpayers, and therefore should be free of religious observances and coercion. It is the sacred duty of parents and churches to instill religious beliefs, free from government dictation. Institutionalizing prayers in public schools usurps the rights of parents."
Superintendent Sanders says the school district consulted with the Alliance For Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian organization that said there was nothing unconstitutional about what was going on at their football games.
"Any prayers are student-led and student-initiated. And if the school stepped in and stopped them that would violate the students' First Amendment, constitutional right of freedom of speech," Sanders said.
Sanders added that the school groups present their opening remarks at football games and if that leads them to offer up a prayer then that is their choice.