Louisiana High School Allows Students to Pray Over Loudspeaker at Football Games

At Iota High School in Louisiana, students and parents and athletes and local residents have no idea what the law is when it comes to prayer at football games.

The law is simple: The school cannot sponsor prayer. Neither can anyone representing the school.

Last month, however, a priest gave an invocation before a football game and no one said anything about it. That’s illegal and Superintendent John Bourque knew it, which is why he later urged everyone to let student volunteers lead the prayers instead:

Bourque says [he] wants students and parents to understand, its illegal for an adult to lead prayer at an athletic event whether we like it or not.

“Its possible to have prayer at football games, if a student volunteers then it can be done,” said Bourque.

Technically, he’s right. No one can stop volunteers from praying as long as they’re not representing the school.

So what happened Friday night?

The football players prayed. The cheerleaders prayer. And two student volunteers took over the loudspeaker system and prayed.

They still don’t get it.

I know I’m not a lawyer, but the Supreme Court already declared this practice of praying over the loudspeakers illegal in Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v Doe (1999):

In a 6-3 opinion delivered by Justice John Paul Stevens, the Court held that the District’s policy permitting student-led, student-initiated prayer at football games violates the Establishment Clause. The Court concluded that the football game prayers were public speech authorized by a government policy and taking place on government property at government-sponsored school-related events and that the District’s policy involved both perceived and actual government endorsement of the delivery of prayer at important school events. Such speech is not properly characterized as “private,” wrote Justice Stevens for the majority. In dissent, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, noted the “disturbing” tone of the Court’s opinion that “bristle[d] with hostility to all things religious in public life.”

How the KATC news report completely ignores any mention of that case is baffling to me.

Superintendent Bourque knows the law, though. He has to know this is illegal and he can put a stop to it immediately. His job is to run a public school, not a worship service promoting Christianity over all other systems of belief. If he can’t implement a simple, strict policy to make sure all of his students are treated fairly — as required by the law — at school events, he should resign immediately.

(Thanks to Randall 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.

  • drakvl

    My thought when I read the headline: “Please don’t let it be Doyle. Please don’t let it be Doyle.”

  • jdm8

    WTF. It’s supposed to be a sports game, not a church event. Anyone that wants to go to church can go to church.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=47910251 Scott Broussard

    “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matt 6:5-6

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    Taken from the comment section:

    Corey Romero · Top Commenter · Owner 937-5779 at Self employed.corey romero House leveling and foundation work.

    Seperation of church and state was never imposed for the sake of keeping God out of school, it was imposed to keep politicians from dictating a certain religion to the citizens. There is no harm in having religion in schools, but there is great harm in the state sponsoring or favoring a certain religion. For some reason, this fact escapes those who cry foul when a prayer is cited on school grounds. They are so ignorant on the intentions of the law. For those who whine about others shoving a religion down your throat, You are in such a small minority, you don’t matter.

  • http://exconvert.blogspot.com/ Kacy

    To put this into geographical perspective:

    Iota is 130 miles east of Kountze, TX, or about a 2 hour drive. 

    Iota is about 75 miles Southeast of DeRidder, LA, or about an hour and a half drive.

    Kountze is famous for the current cheerleader-Bible-banner circus, and DeRidder is the hometown of Jerry Dewitt.  The good folks in DeRidder all but ran Jerry out of town when he came out as an atheist.

    There is not simply a culture of bigotry towards the nonreligious in East Texas and Louisiana.  It’s also an activist culture against the nonreligious.  I am sure the superintendent knows what he’s doing, and he’s gaining popular support by doing it.

  • Stev84

    American Christians somehow don’t get the difference between church and any other event. They are obsessed with turning literally everything into a Jesus event.

  • Earl G.

    Just … wow.

  • Aaron

    Wow, I wish I had so much money to throw around that I didn’t care about lawsuits. 

  • Miss_Beara


    It is a pity that so many people in this country think this way.

  • TnkAgn

    But. Football in the South IS a religion. That Jesus stuff is just for show!

  • TnkAgn

    Please consult any compendium of landmark US Supreme Court cases over the last 50 years. Your view will be be chastised, to say the least.

  • phantomreader42

    This is one of many, many, MANY bible verses that christians pretend don’t exist because it’s inconvenient when they’re trying to force their cult on others.  

  • Miss_Beara

    I would like to know what Christians usually say when presented with this verse. Out of context, perhaps? 

  • Ginastewart9109

    Because while God has no interest in starving children or AIDS orphans, he really wants your school to take state! Go team!

  • RobertoTheChi

    Dear Corey Romero,

    You sir are a clueless twit. Get a clue, a brain and for fuck sake learn the law!

  • http://www.facebook.com/eukota Darrell Ross

    I feel like Christians at all these schools can’t understand the law and are using the cell-phone-reception-style investigation. “Will this work? No? How about now? Uh ok how about now?”

    Is it feigned ignorance or just incompetence?

  • Jason


    Since you are writing this book on young atheists, what is it you think other students at schools like this could do to put up resistance? Would it help to have other students volunteering to give secular or at least non-Christian prayers. I’m sure they would prefer no one pray than to allow a non-Jesus prayer.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

    A few quick ideas: Writing a letter to the editor of the local/scholl paper could help. Letting the administration know that they don’t agree with what the cheerleaders are doing. Speaking up about it school board meetings. Creating a petition signed by students who think this is the wrong thing to do. Offering to create a secular/non-Christian banner for the football players to run through.

  • phantomreader42

     In my experience, they either flee in terror, or claim that an explicit order not to pray in public from jesus h. tapdancing christ somehow doesn’t count, or that those words (and ONLY those) don’t mean what they say.

  • Alajackd

     I’m a Christian and have the answer for you. We pray in public despite that verse JUST TO PISS OFF ATHEISTS. There’s no other reason. We do it for that reason and that reason only.

  • Alajackd

    Why do you pussy atheists care?? Since when do you ever attend a football game – or anything competitive for that matter?

  • Alajackd

     Why do you care? Aren’t you weirdos too busy attending Star Trek conventions anyway?