POTTSBORO — Pottsboro residents attending the first local high school football game of the season saw the first match without a traditional stadium broadcast of a pregame prayer in many years. Many attending the game used the moment of silence to stand and audibly recite the Lord’s Prayer, apparently in defiance of the decision.
Pottsboro Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Kevin Matthews said the pregame prayer had been a normal event at middle school and high school game for years.
Earlier this year, the district received a formal complaint from a non-profit organization called the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The organization complained about the district’s traditional broadcast of a prayer and also claimed that the district allowed a coach to lead his team in a pregame prayer.
Matthews said the district “visited with our legal (department) for an extensive period of time,” and decided to concede to the foundation’s demands.
“We’re fully in compliance,” Matthews said, “any one representative of the district cannot endorse or sponsor prayer in any way.”
Elizabeth Cavell is the FFRF Attorney who filed the complaint on behalf of the non-profit organization. Cavell said that the school district’s quick response was typical.
“How it (usually) plays out depends on the violation and what the law is,” Cavell said, “we appreciated the quick cooperation of Pottsboro.”
The FFRF says that its purpose is to “protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.” The nationwide foundation responds to citizen complaints about perceived violations of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment which prohibits state endorsement of any religion.
In the foundation’s February 2013 complaint filed with the district, Cavell said, “Pottsboro ISD must take immediate action to ensure that coaches do not lead, organize, invite clergy to deliver, encourage, or participate in prayers with their teams … It is unconstitutional for public school employees to participate in student religious activities.”
Pottsboro residents attending the Cardinals game seemed to disagree with the foundation’s reasoning.
“It’s a disgrace,” said Pottsboro resident Eric Pearson, “when you take God and religion out of this nation … This is a very diversified country, but as far as telling someone they can’t express their own religious beliefs, that’s infringing on others’ rights.”
Tony Hardin, a Pottsboro resident and father of two in PISD’s school system, said, “I think it’s ridiculous, because 99 percent of people that show up share some form of Christian belief.”
Cavell’s complaint highlighted previous court cases that struck down school-led prayers, saying in part “the court (has) also rejected (arguments) that the school district’s policy of prohibiting its employees from engaging in prayer with students violated the employees’ right to free speech.”
The letter is one of many successful complaints filed by the foundation across the country. The legal group has highlighted the debate over what defines an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion, especially on public school campuses.
Pottsboro resident and father of three boys in PISD schools, James Goldsmith, said he missed the chance to pray during the moment of silence because he was volunteering in the concession booths. “I would have, as we normally do,” Goldsmith said, “We’re carrying separation of church and state a little too far with these kind of lawsuits. Let the community do what they would like to do. We don’t need a lawsuit to tell us what to do here.”
Cavell said that the foundation only acts on complaints it receives from local citizens or employees, but she declined to say exactly how the foundation was alerted to Pottsboro’s tradition. Matthews said that anyone who attended a football game could have made the complaint, but he had no specific comment on how the foundation found out about the coach’s pregame prayer circle.