Alabama High School Stops Football Pre-Game Prayers After FFRF Sends Letter

For the past decade, public prayers have been a regular part of the weekly football pre-game ritual at Arab High School in Alabama. That led the Freedom From Religion Foundation to send a notice (PDF) to the district’s superintendent:

Arab City Schools must take immediate action to ensure that prayers are not scheduled at any school-sponsored events. The prayers at the football games constitute an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. A reasonable Arab City Schools student would certainly perceive the prayer “as stamped with [his/]her school’s approval.”… Moreover, prayer offered at the school sponsored events would lead anyone participating on the team or in attendance to believe that Arab City Schools is endorsing religion.

We ask that the school district commence and immediate investigation into the complaints alleged and take immediate action to stop any and all prayers occurring before any school-sponsored event. We ask that you inform us promptly in writing of the steps Arab City School takes to remedy this serious and flagrant violation of the First Amendment.

Guess what? It worked! Yesterday, the superintendent of the district said the illegal public prayers would come to a halt:

John Mullins is reversing a policy he started a decade ago. Until this year, he allowed every home football game for Arab High School to start with a prayer…

“It’s clear, what we’ve been doing is not in compliance with the Constitution. We’re going to cease doing what we’ve been doing,” added Mullins.

All Arab High School football games will now begin with a moment of silence.

The Christians who are complaining about this in every comment thread on the topic that I’ve seen seem to think FFRF wanted them to stop praying altogether. That’s a lie. All Christians who attend or play in the football games are welcome to pray — privately. Or, if they want to be dicks about it, they can try and make an unofficial spectacle of the whole thing before a game starts. I’m sure Jesus would be proud. The only thing that has changed is that the public address announcer can no longer make a pre-game prayer a part of the official event.

“We are not going to consume our energy, time, and financial resources fighting a legal battle that may, or may not be winnable at this time,” added Mullins.

It’s not winnable and Mullins knows it.

At least now everyone has the choice of whether or not they want to pray.

By the way, North Alabama news station WAFF has a poll you’ll want to respond to:

That’s not the right answer… Let’s fix that.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=23430830 Matthew Shepherd

    Looks like their prayers *puts on sunglasses* got sacked.

  • Austin

    The WAFF poll is irrelevant. The Constitution protects the rights of the few from the whim of the many. One hundred percent of people could support school prayer and it would not make it legal. Polls like WAFF’s give people the false sense that a majority makes right. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-A-Anderson/100000016895400 John A. Anderson

    It’s 7:15 a.m. Eastern, and the noes have already moved up to about 36%. We’re gaining quickly, considering most of your readers are only now getting out of bed. Does PZ know you’re stepping on his turf?

    • jwthomas

      Instead of Pharyngulating the poll we’re Mehtastasizing it.  That’s different.

  • Daniel Brown

    I just voted no to pre-game prayer. As it stands the total is 57% yes 38% no and 5% when school led. So… it’s slowly moving towards our favor.

  • Anonymous

    So that 74% who say that they support pre-game prayer are presumably happy if the coach is Hindu and wants to bless the team with a Hindu prayer?  Or maybe Muslim or Jewish?  What if he or she was a Satanist?  Still OK to have a rousing cheer of “Hail Satan” before the game?

    Honestly I don’t think they’ve really thought the question through.

    • http://a-million-gods.blogspot.com/ Avicenna

      Only if you play for the New Jersey devils… 

      I would want prayer to be a private thing. Those who wish to pray can do so, those who wish to eat babies can do so… 

      I see it no more distasteful than my favourite football (the worldwide football not the american one) player kisses the pitch before he goes on. To a lot of players form counts and the placebo effect of luck often is a condensing factor. If it keeps them happy let them pray to whatever they want. Jesus, Allah, Darkseid…

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.zamecki Joe Zamecki

    Well a moment of silence is still religion at work, but it’s a start. That’s some good progress. Surprising how easy it was too. Kudos again to the FFRF. 

    • Mihangel apYrs

      in can give everyone a chance to centre themselves for the match

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.zamecki Joe Zamecki

    The poll ought to be something like: Do you realize that pre-game out-loud prayer at public school events is an unfair promotion of religion on the part of government? Yes, No. That’s it. No “maybe” about it. 

  • Erin7654321

    Question:  My high school got around the church-state thing by having pre-event prayers lead by a student-elected chaplain.  It always made me uncomfortable, but was that unconstitutional as well?  The chaplaincy was by far the most-campaigned-for position.

    • Volunteer

      It’s still unconstitutional. Same as if the student body ‘voted’ to have prayer at their graduation. The law protects against mob rule.

  • Nico

    Yes.52%No.43%Yes, when it is not school led.5%

  • lisaloo

    Last spring, I went to an dinner for my son’s track team. Before we ate,  the coach asked if anyone wanted to lead a blessing because it wasn’t legal for her to do it….this just rubbed me the wrong way…sure one of the kids did it, but I doubt they would have if they coach hadn’t suggested it.

    • Mihangel apYrs

      you should have volunteered:
      “Oh Great Lord Satan, Lord of the World……..”

      and totally in keeping with their superstition

  • http://thefloatinglantern.wordpress.com/ Tim Martin

    As if the moment of silence weren’t for prayer.

  • Sven

    Yes 49%
    N0 46%
    Other yes 5%

    We’re gaining!

  • Anonymous

    You are missing the other relevant story on that page, specifically
    “Offenders in Ala. town can choose jail or church”

    • Anonymous

      Sweet mother of freakin’ pearl… I hope there’s a church of Satan nearby in case I’m ever arrested there (not that I would ever step FOOT in Alabama, but still…).

    • Michael

      So, regular churchgoers are exempt from prosecution on misdemeanor charges. What if the accused is a priest?

  • Anonymous

    Yes 47%
    No 47%
    Other yes 5%

    WOOT!

  • Banrion

    Just voted no. Yes 47% No 47%

  • BornA

    48 – to 46 IN OUR FAVOUR :)

    6% other

  • Jeff

    One of my favorite things about this site is its ability to turn these ignorant polls around so quickly.

    • Kevin_Of_Bangor

      It is 51% no and 43% yes at the moment

  • Shannonkish

    I live in Alabama and am very happy to hear this. Sadly, there are many others who are very unhappy to hear about this— that’s the Bible Belt for ya! 

    But, I think that this is a good thing, a step in the right direction. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Sweet/1280927267 James Sweet

    It’s strange to me that the “Yes, as long as it’s not school-led” answer is so unpopular.  That’s a totally reasonable answer.  *I* wouldn’t answer that way, mind you, but if somebody did answer that way, I wouldn’t have much to criticize.  Strange that so few people see it that way…

    • http://twitter.com/enuma enuma

      It’s a badly worded poll.  The polls on local news sites usually are.

  • Mihangel apYrs

    didn’t their saviour have something to say about public prayers…….

  • Thin-ice

    10:41 am Pacific time, the poll doesn’t show on the TV website. Have they taken it down after realizing the rationalists have swamped their poll?

  • Kate

    This is my local news station, and I’m happy to report that the current total is now 44% Yes, 50% No, which is obviously due to this site, since the comments on the related Facebook post are predominately outraged that anyone (normally referred to as devil-worshipers, since that is how the Facebookers see those who do not pray) would ever take issue with prayer. 

    Such is life in Alabama. The handful of Atheists just have to tune most of it out or we’d go mad.

  • Gerry

    The “moment of silence” is just silly. C’mon, it’s a football game! The solemnity is seriously misplaced.

  • Shannonkish

    Here is the fun posts that Alabama folks have been commenting on regarding this. It is wonderful to read— if you want to throw up. 

    https://www.facebook.com/Edacy

    • Annie

      Oh my goodness!  These people really have no idea about how their country works.  I will put money on a bunch of them praying out loud during the moment of silence.

    • GentleGiant

      Wow, that’s a bunch of seriously deluded people (with one or two voices of reason). It’s clear that no one there know the laws of their own country. I do to a greater degree it seems and I’m not even an American!

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.sanocki Steve Sanocki

    Side note: I tried posting the link to this on Facebook and it won’t post…none of the Patheos links will post, yet I can post any other link, including *gasp* Phryngula.   Something is fishy…

  • http://evolutionguide.blogspot.com/ William Bell

    A moment of silence like, say, in the Damon case.

  • Keith

    Although I agree with the thrust of this issue, I have to say that the letter sent to the school by the FFRF was not specific enough – it really does give the impression that the foundation wishes any and every form of prayer to be excluded before games. The FFRF should know better than to be that careless with their wording, precisely because Christians have such a hyperbolic reaction to these things. That said, I’m glad the school had the sense to see an unconstitutional practice for what it was.

  • Anonymous

    So I’ve been lurking this website for quite a long time now, and this is the post that finally made me join.
    I graduated from Arab High and was in band all the years that I was there.  Even as an atheist, I had to bow my head on the field to stay “in form” while the prayer was given.
    There were more violations than you can shake a stick at, including one year the musical theater performing “Children of Eden” and “Godspell.”
    I recall my band director also wanting to do a Christian themed show for my senior year, saying “Because we’re Arab, we can probably get away with it.”

    I thought it was so funny that my director asked me to lead the lunch prayer in band camp once as well.

    They all mean well, but, my are they closed minded.

    I wish that I could have made a difference then, but I seriously feared for my life if it got out that I was an atheist.
    Glad that they’re finally putting a stop to this sort of behavior.

  • Mike555

    Bunch of ignorant people

    on here. God bless you all

    • hoverFrog

      It’s rather ironic from an atheist’s point of view for a theist to claim that we’re the ignorant ones. We’re not the ones who ascribe real world phenomena to a god after all.


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