School Board in Kansas Unanimously Votes to Allow Student-Led Prayer At All District Events, Including Football Games

This past Tuesday, members of the Unified School District No. 480 school board (in the misnamed city of Liberal, Kansas) lost their minds.

Board members Nick Hatcher and Tammy Sutherland-Abbott

They voted unanimously to “allow student-led prayers at all activities in the district”:

I think that’s one of the greatest things we’ve ever done,” said board member Tammy Sutherland-Abbott, who seconded board member Nick Hatcher’s motion.

“I would like to see us bring prayer back to the games,” he told his fellow board members, after expressing admiration for the LHS Redskins football team. “I have struggled with that — not having prayer at our activities — because it’s ‘not the thing to do,’ but if the board thought it was important enough that they would support it, and defend it if the time came, I’d like to ask that we do that at our next meeting.”

“Why not do it now?” asked Sutherland-Abbott.

“We do live in a democratic society, and I personally feel like our community would support that decision, regardless of the rest of the world,” Hatcher said.

Just so we’re clear, students are already allowed to pray on their own. But what the school board is saying with this vote is that students can use the public address system to pray before games and all other events.

What else would this vote allow? Graduation prayer to Jesus? Sure. A marching band halftime show set to Christian worship music? Of course. Pre-prom-prayer? Why not.

This is exactly the sort of thing the Supreme Court banned in Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe (2000):

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.

But… but… JESUS!

The district’s superintendent was the only person who had any sense of responsibility, cautioning the board that they were making a ridiculous, hasty decision:

Superintendent of schools Paul Larkin cautioned the board members that they should be aware of challenges that could arise.

“We can have student-led prayer, but if we turn away certain groups — if you have someone who wants to serve up a prayer or a thought that isn’t the mainstream thinking — you’re going to have a problem,” he said. “The thing to do is take it to (board attorney) Mr. Yoxall and get some advice.

Bingo. When a Muslim group or atheist group wants the same sort of access to the PA system, people are going to be up in arms.

But at least the board would have the presence of mind to run this idea by a lawyer first, right? Someone who might have heard of the Supreme Court?

Nope. Who needs a lawyer when you have God on your side?

I’m sure you’re right,” replied Hatcher. “I’m sure he’ll come back and tell us the reasons not to, or at least show us where the liabilities lie, but if there’s a will, there’s a way.

Though Larkin offered to contact Yoxall in order to bring a legal opinion to the next board meeting, Sutherland-Abbott interrupted:

“We don’t need to wait for that. We can make a board decision, as long as it’s student-led, to support prayer. I’ll make that motion. I’m gonna do it.”

This is not going to end well for the district. It just takes one brave student willing to lead a prayer to someone not named Jehovah for the complaints to roll in — probably by the same Christians who support this vote — and that’s only if a church/state separation group doesn’t get to them first.

Rob Boston of American United for Separation of Church and State hinted on Twitter that a lawsuit may indeed be forthcoming:


Instead of saving money for students’ education, this board thinks that money would be better spent fighting a lawsuit they will undoubtedly lose. All in the name of announcing their majority to the world and appeasing a God who told them to pray in private.

It’s a decision that could only be made by board members who selfishly put their religious beliefs in front of the students’ best interests. Not a single board member had the guts to say this was a bad idea. They all need to be voted out.

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.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X