Memo to Mississippi: You Can’t Have School-Sponsored Prayers at Football Games

For many Christians, it’s not enough that they can pray silently to themselves before a big game. It’s not even enough that they can pray out loud while they’re sitting in the bleachers. They won’t rest until their Christian prayers are recited over the intercom system so the whole stadium can hear them.

And that’s where the Freedom From Religion Foundation draws the line:

The Freedom from Religion Foundation has issued a warning to the Mississippi’s 151 school superintendents not to allow prayer to take place over the intercom during football games or those schools will will be sued.

J.D Simpson, Executive Director of First Priority, a Christian-based organization for students in schools, said Friday that organized prayer in school is against the law, but everyone still has freedom of speech.

“You can take away the microphone, but you can’t take away our mouth. We still have the freedom of speech,” said Simpson.

Umm… yes. That’s exactly right. We can take away the microphone… and you still have freedom of speech.

So it looks like everyone is on the same page… right?

Of course not.

Jim Burnett, Senior Pastor at Willow Pointe Church in Oak Grove, along with several other pastors have told their congregations to recite the Lord’s Prayer during that time.

Burnett said, “Simply be led by God; if you feel led to pray at that time, pray for the athletes, their safety, and for our country.”

“It’s very unsettling for society to make such threats and push God out of what He created,” said Burnett. “We are running a spiritual fever. We are sick. We are just morally getting farther and farther away from were we started.”

Jeff Floyd, Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, said he agrees.

Floyd said, “I think it is wrong for any group to come in and threaten to sue an individual when all they are doing is exercising their First Amendment Rights.”

Floyd’s wrong. A school-sponsored prayer (even if it’s student led) over the intercom isn’t free speech. That’s endorsement and the Supreme Court said so in 2000.

Not every legal issue is clear-cut. Sometimes, it could go either way depending on which side you listen to. In this case, the facts are clear. If there’s any indication of school-sponsorship of prayers, whether it’s led by a coach or spoken by a student over a public address system, it’s illegal and a lawsuit is forthcoming.

You can do this all you want

Just pray on your own. It’s that simple.

(Thanks to Neil for the link!)

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.

  • 3lemenope

    I want to make up little business-style cards. On one side, in elegant but tasteful print, It would read [Matthew 6:5-6:6], and on the other in a nice but readable font, the text of those two passages. 

    They would certainly come in handy. Heck, I could have postcards made, to send to fellows just like that there Pastor Burnett and Pastor Floyd.

  • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

    Book of Matthew… be not like heathens… pray alone… blah, blah, blah. Would it kill these people to actually read their own “holy” books?

    • Rwlawoffice

      I love it when atheists quote the bible with some sense that they have it all figured out. This passage does not mean what the atheists want it to mean. It is saying don’t be a hypocrite when you pray. It is not saying that all prayer is to be done in private.

      • Piet Puk

        I love it when hypocrites like you claim to know anything about any scripture. Like everything in any scripture it can mean exactly what somebody wants it tot mean. 
        Just because you want it to mean something different, does not mean your explanation is the only one.
        You are nothing more than a cherry picker in a world full of cherry pickers, picking all the cherries you need to help you keep your sorry delusion.

      • RobertoTheChi

        You seem to forget that many atheists were once christians and actually do know a lot about the bible (often more than most theists). But I’m sure you probably think they must not have been the “right” kind of christians.

      • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

        Fyi: I don’t feed trolls. Go find a nice bridge and stroll along.

        • Findog53

          Another nihilistic rhodes scholar who brings nothing to the table but mockery.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    The courts have ruled on this many times. And the schools (especially in backward states) just keep going ahead with their violations.

    I think when FFRF and others pursue legal cases against these entities, they are too gentle in what they ask for. We need the judges to kick the school administrators out of their jobs, and to start assessing punitive damages. Maybe when there are some real ramifications to this abuse of the Constitution these schools and towns will start acting a little more carefully.

  • kagekiri

    “We are sick. We are just morally getting farther and farther away from were we started.”
    I agree: you Christians are sick. And since our nation started out with racism, sexism, and other crap baked in, I don’t mind getting further away morally from where we started: that’s called progress.

    • usclat

      Abso-fucking-lutely!!!

    • Findog53

                                                 ATHEISM

      The belief there was once absolutely nothing. And nothing happened to the nothing until nothing magically exploded  (for no reason), creating everything and everywhere. Then a bunch of the exploded everything magically rearranged itself ( for no reason whatsoever), into self-replicating bits which turned into dinosaurs.

                       And they mock your beliefs!

  • Good and Godless

    Praying should not be allowed at all.  

    If it really worked it would be cheating,the fact that it doesn’t is a waste of time.

    People who claim divine moral superiority entitles them to try to cheat at sports is indicative of the lack of ethics and inherent dishonesty  in their cults.

    • usclat

      Woah! I like it! Especially the “in their cults” part. So true.

    • amycas

       Lol, I never thought of it like that.

    • Isilzha

      I’ve also been very bewildered at how people on two different sides in a sports match believe  prayer would actually work.  Is god suppose to tally of the righteous points of all the people involved to determine the winner?  Does he chose the side that prays harder and if so, is there a scale and criteria for such things?  Then I wonder if they feel it’s like medieval justice where whoever wins is somehow divinely chosen.  However, that only seems to work for when they win; when they lose they never seem to think of it as a sign from god saying that they are unworthy.

      Yikes, the leaps these people must go to in order for their worldview to make even vague since is just frightening!

      • Grooney315

        When they lose it’s always the referee’s fault.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/47IDX2QAR6VU6ZAILFU6I23ACQ Joseph

         No… whenever they lose, it must be part of god’s master plan; and you know, he works in mysterious ways….

        • Isilzha

          Of course, that’s not what they’re saying when the OTHER team loses!

      • Sechevich

        I believe that they pray for God to watch over them and to thank God for the event.

  • Teslarocks

    This is my hometown and my children’s school and we deal with this on a daily basis. Every year my children come home and tell me how they’ve been proselytized to, and made to feel like outcasts by the other children because we refuse to believe in bronze age fantasies. It is like walking in a time- warp in this state. We’ve had enough and we are in the process of moving from this backwards red state. From racism to anti- gay bigotry it just wears on your mind.

    • onamission5

      I feel for you. I hope your new home state is a more accepting place than your old one!

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/47IDX2QAR6VU6ZAILFU6I23ACQ Joseph

      Nothing turned my two kids to atheism quicker than the preaching Jeezoids at their public school.  By fourth grade, they were already pointing out the ridiculous shit that these people believe (one favorite was the kid who told my son that even if he murdered a bunch of people, he would still go to heaven because he was a Christian… while my son would burn in a lake of fire because he did not accept Jesus as his personal savior).  Even a 10-year-old kid realized the stupidity of that kind of logic. 

      • Findog53

        I’m sure a ten year old thinks like that. You are so full of crap.

        • http://profile.yahoo.com/47IDX2QAR6VU6ZAILFU6I23ACQ Joseph

          Are you friggin’ serious, Findog?  You clearly have never been to the Bible belt!  These kids are indoctrinated right from the cradle… and as much as it might blow your mind, there are, indeed, fire-and-brimstone bible-thumpers here who drill this ridiculous shit into their kids’ heads from the get go. 

          I’m sure there are others on this site who have had very similar experiences to the one I described.

          • Findog53

            Are you replying to the right person?

        • http://profile.yahoo.com/47IDX2QAR6VU6ZAILFU6I23ACQ Joseph

          It occurred to me that what you were referring to was not that a ten-year-old would think of accepting Jesus Christ as his personal savior, or believe in a lake of fire… but that he could conceive of murdering a bunch of people.  If that’s what you were referring to, then I have to admit that I was troubled by such a thought as well when my son told me about it.  But then when you think of all the atrocities attributed to god in the Old Testament, I suppose it’s not too much of a leap for an indoctrinated kid to think of something like this. 

        • RobertoTheChi

          You have to be living under a rock to not know that these bible-thumpers drill this insanity into their children and those children parrot this stupidity to other children.

  • observer

    Fundamentalists make me think of children having a temper tantrum whenever the grown-ups tell them “no”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/laniered Melanie Edwards

    Interesting.  I have video of my step-son’s cross country coach last year leading the kids in the lord’s prayer before an event – in Mississippi, as luck would have it (not).  Who should I send that to, do you suppose?

  • Houndentenor

    Let’s talk about what this is really about.  This isn’t about prayer.  No one can stop another person from praying.  Anyone can pray any time and anywhere.  No one’s rights are being restricted.  so what is the purpose of these big public prayers?  It’s to make sure that those who don’t believe like the majority know they are in the minority.  It’s to intimidate them into silence.  It’s despicable, but also typical.  I was raised around such people and they really do believe that if they can’t be in charge and force everyone to go along with whatever they want, then they are being persecuted.

    This doesn’t just affect the non-religious.  Many of the lawsuits against these practices have been brought by people who belong to protestant denominations that are a minority in that region.  And still it goes on.  

  • MegaZeusThor

    “…push God out of what He created”

    Very clever, using their own fiction to justify their actions.

  • snoozn

    Ahh, the south! Yes there are many wonderful things (and wonderful people) in the south. But I must say I don’t miss it, living now in my lovely secular humanist bubble of a town.

    Actual conversation I had in high school:

    Clueless girl: So, are you Baptist or Methodist?

    Me: I’m Lutheran.

    Clueless girl: Lutheran?! Oh my god! Is that the same thing as a devil worshiper?

    Me: [pause while I puzzle out what she's thinking] Umm, no. Maybe you have Luther confused with Lucifer?

  • Baby_Raptor

    It’s not about being allowed to pray. It’s about being allowed to force others to do it. That’s how the fundies know they matter: Stepping on other people. 

    If we have our right to not be like them respected, they’re losing. 

  • Margo

    I live in Mississippi and this is a real problem. We had prayer at every football game and graduation I went to. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this was illegal until after high school. I remember standing to say the pledge and listening to many principals and other school staff praying every year and just thinking that was how things were everywhere. No one questioned it, and if they ever did I know they would be treated terribly by 99% of the people in the community. So many people get away with things because they are the majority in the area and people are too afraid to speak out.

    • usclat

      So true. People are afraid to speak out regarding being non-believers. Keep pressing forward within YOUR world Margo. Stay true to your reason. More and more people are leaving ‘faith’ in favor of reason. Even Mississippi will some day be ‘liberated’ from the religious propagandists. 

  • Margaret Whitestone

    “It’s very unsettling for society to make such threats and push God out of what He created,..”

    If your god were as great and powerful as you guys claim (and if he even existed), he couldn’t be pushed out of anywhere.   Your belligerent insistence in shoving him down everyone’s throats in flagrant violation of the law only proves you recognize this.  

    • Findog53

      I’m so sick and tired of the whiney we’re shoving it dowm your throats bullshit. If it bothers you that much just ignore it.  If it bothers you that much form a coomune like the amish.
         Now I’m gonna shove some down your throat so to speak.
       The bible teaches that anything can be worshipped and that you can even worship your own self, which you do. Probably the state and even Stalin also. Atheists worship themselves in a sense that men are who decide what is right and wrong and put their faith in humanity. Therefore it is a belief-system and this constitutes a religion(so says our high court). They wish to deny this. They deny their Creator, but still knows he exists, they just don’t wish to respect his authority.
        You are also a religious faction whether you like to hear it or not . So just like our highest court rules on the spirit of the phrase, you know that seperation of church and state phrase that is not in the constitution ANYWHERE. Therefore your faction also violates the law.

      • ruth

        You don’t know much about atheists.  Or about our high court. Or about the Constitution.  Or about logical arguments. 

        FWIW, the Supreme Court has not defined religion.  

        • http://profile.yahoo.com/47IDX2QAR6VU6ZAILFU6I23ACQ Joseph

          May I continue?

           … Or about grammar.  Or about punctuation.  Or about spell check.

          Sheesh… Findogg53′s rant read more like a frenetic ransom note.  It would have helped if it was done with a random assortment of fonts, to get the full effect.

          • Findog53

            I apolajise, I didn’te now propper gramma is neccaserry to now what Im talking aboat. you’re funny

        • Findog53

          The  high court has defined religion. Do some homework  and you will see.

      • ImRike

         So my question to you is: what if atheism was a religion? That still does not give christians the right to shove their religion down our throat. Don’t you have any brains at all to understand that’s what the deal is: NO religion (or non-religion) is supposed to get preferential treatment by the government. You can call atheism a religion all you want, it won’t change a thing!

        • Findog53

          The Religion of nothing is now being endorsed by the Government. That’s the problem.

      • RobertoTheChi

        You don’t seem to know much about anything (especially atheists).

  • Octoberfurst

      I get so tired of this nonsense. It seems the fundies aren’t satisfied with having the right to personally pray anytime they want to. No, they have to drag EVERYONE in on it. They act as if they are being persecuted if they can’t say a prayer over an intercom or a bullhorn. It’s just arrogance.
      They want to pray before High school sporting events, before school board meetings, over the school intercom at the beginning of the school day, before graduation ceremonies–the list goes on and on. And of course the prayers are ALWAYS to Jesus. Not to Allah, not to Krishna–just JESUS–and I am sick to death of it and refuse to participate.  

    • blackberry

      Who is Allah? Oh wait I know one of Jesus and God’s followers… we pray to Jesus and God

  • Aaron Scoggin

    PRAY ALL YOU WANT! Yes, even without a microphone, prayer is possible. So what are they disagreeing about? They ask for the right to free speech – they HAVE that right and are free to practice it whenever they want to. It looks to be more of an issue of them being butthurt that they can’t push their religion on everyone wherever they go.

    • Findog53

      So it is ok to pray at these events as long as there is no microphone or bullhorn or any device that would give the endorsement of religion from school officials or town officials etc? If 80,000 people stood up voluntarily at these events and prayed together it is ok with your non-theist factions? None of you would cry and wait for a courthouse to open and file a lawsuit if this were the case as long as it was voluntarily?
        There is a case currently being considered in deleware where before town meetings certain people would stand voluntarily and recite the lords prayer. Nobody was asked to stand, voluntarily this was done, and a non-theist filed a lawsuit saying it violated the establishment clause. You all better hope this doesn’t passs constitutional muster, otherwise a new door opens in the battle to take back some of what we have given up.
         The judge in the case says there are some weighty issues to be considered.   

      • ruth

        Ah, the pressure of the majority.  I would be concerned about not standing for this “spontaneous” prayer and worry about whether I would be treated different from how the Christians are treated in the town.  If the meeting has begun the prayer is out of order.  If it hasn’t begun, whether it is constitutional depends on the facts and circumstances. 

        Why do you refer to the concerns of the minority as “crying?”  

        Why do you insist on disrupting public business with praying out loud?  I don’t disrupt public business by reading poetry, talking loudly, or waxing philosophical.  

        • Findog53

          The question I asked is would you non-theists whine if 80,000 people stood up and prayed before those football games without the availability of a bull horn or microphone? The praying out loud is called freedom of speech. This is also to RobertoTheChi.
           As is your persecution complex growing tiresome. the first amendment was designed to prevent government interference with religion and not prevent “government advancement” of religion generally.
           Ruth and RobertoTheChi must be people who are a spirit of the phrase people, you know that fanatasy phrase “seperation of church and state” which is nowhere to be found in the constitution anywhere. Please furnish me with a copy of it with that phrase in it, “oh wait!” you wont because there isn’t one.
           Again, those of you who deny the existence of God and wish to eradicate religion and its symbols from civil society are free, as Americans to make the attempt. Godspeed to your efforts, but please don’t use history to validate your position.  You’re lacking in it.

      • RobertoTheChi

        Some of what you’ve given up!?!?! And what would that be? Sorry you’re angry that you have to follow the same laws as everyone else does. The persecution complex you people suffer from is growing tiresome.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adam-Patrick/100000027906887 Adam Patrick

    I live in Mississippi and this is really starting to annoy me. When this was a big issue a while back, I felt like an outcast for being the only one I knew supporting the FFRF. I’ve heard, “Well, if you don’t want to pray, then don’t,” more times than I can count. I’ve had people tell me I’m violating their rights. I’ve heard every insult in the book. Apparently, making these fundamentalists follow the law is persecuting them, and they just use shit like this to fuel their persecution complex. 

    It’s already been said, but this isn’t about them being able to pray. They know they still can. They know no one can stop them from praying. It can’t be about prayer. They just want to feed their persecution complex to get sympathy from the ignorant masses.

    • Octoberfurst

        Spot on Adam! I too have had people say, “Well if YOU don’t want to pray then don’t. No one is forcing you.”  But I am being forced to participate in that I have to stand there and listen to some yahoo say a prayer praising Jesus when I don’t believe in God.  What is the point of all these public prayers?  Like another commentator said, it is to shove their religion in your face. It’s their way of giving the middle finger to anyone who isn’t a Christian.  And if you stand up for your rights and protest this then YOU are the bad guy! You’re an “unGodly heathen” who probably hates America too.  It’s all so stupid.

  • Nick Sims

    i will publically denounce christianity if someone proves a single thing wrong inthe bible.

    • Piet Puk

      Sorry, can you first proof that your specific brand of christianity is the real one?

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/47IDX2QAR6VU6ZAILFU6I23ACQ Joseph

       WTF… are you serious?  I could make the same ridiculous statement about The Illiad, Aesop’s Fables, or Grimm’s Fairy Tales.  Sheesh… this kind of thinking is why atheists are so frustrated. 

  • KaeylynHunt

    YESSS!It’s about TIME these Religious Fascists were finally put on notice!For far too long,they play the Victim,all the while being the Bully.Religion of ALL kinds is the Bane of Human Existence,&the faster it dies out,the beTter chance this whole Planet has of Surviving&THRIVING!

    • Findog53

      You are some serious mind altering substances, better yet you must be what  that last  name rymes with.

  • Glasofruix

    “Simply be led by God; if you feel led to pray at that time, pray for the athletes, their safety, and for our country.”

    Sooooo, gawd prefers american handegg sport rather than starving children? Why do people worship this idiotic creation of the past?

    • Findog53

      The $64,000 question? What faction sends millions of $’s a year to 3rd world countries starving children? It’s sure as hell not a non-theist faction Shrek.

      • Findog53

        Didn’t think you could intelligently answer the question Glasofruix.

  • Rickray1949

    I still can’t understand why an omnipotent, omniscient, omni everything god would want slaves like us bowing down and claiming that he is so wonderful and omni everything.  That’s like a colony of ants crawling up my leg saying” Here I am can I have some sugar?”   Why in rationality & logic would a god who has everything and knows everything and created everything even give a shit about us evolved microbes?   Put yourself in the shoes of an almighty deity…..he would be toying with us and laughing his ass off.   F…. religiotards can’t think past the nose on their face.

    • blackberry

      May God Bless you if you make it to Heaven

  • Jwmchristie

    Christians are told in the Bible to go into their closet to pray, good advice, that, they should follow. 

  • blackberry

    May God Bless all of you. My opion ever since 2000 when prayer was taken out of our schools and other places that was when the world as we know it was heading to hell! Examples (1) School Shootings(2) Shootings at The Movies(3) Temple Shooting…. And thats just recent I’m not against any religion. I don’t care if you believe in God are not. Stop telling us that do how to live our lives… And threaten sueing us if we don’t follow your commands

    • Findog53

      Very well said blackberry, all three examples were committed by non-theists. You people represent yourselves very well also. You non-theists that is. Hey Joseph, is my grammar getting better?

    • Margaret Whitestone

      Murder, rape, divorce, teen pregnancy, and other social ills are consistently higher in religious states than in more secular states.   Prayer has never been taken out of schools. Students are free to pray on their own every minute of every day if they choose.  Stop pretending pushing your religion on others by force actually helps as there is direct evidence to the contrary.
      http://freestudents.blogspot.com/2009/12/how-most-religious-states-fare.html


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