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.

  • Brian Westley

    Why don’t they just vote to burn a barrel full of money?

    • TnkAgn

      With a few “immoral” books from school libraries thrown in for good measure, I’d bet.

  • cary_w

    There’s nothing like having your own school board endorse bullying.

    • Tainda

      What are you talking about? No one would do that!

  • Rationalist1

    I wonder how Christians will feel when non believers are in the majority and we use every government sponsered occasion to promote non belief on a captive audience.

    Oh wait, we can’t do that, we hold the principle of secularism in government activities as more important than imposing our opinions on God on others. Darn secular morals. :->

  • James_Jarvis

    The argument they will no doubt use is that because it is a student led prayer it does not violate the establishment clause. The school is merely allowing free speech of an individual. However, by voting to allow prayer the are hoisting themselves by their own petard. If these people had even the vaguest knowledge of American, or for that matter British history they would know that the Establishment clause is meant to protect their beliefs from the government. If a government can privilege your religion today it can oppress it tomorrow.

    • Matto the Hun

      Yeah, they’l never understand that. To them not having privilege is oppression.

    • ZeldasCrown

      Your last sentence hits the nail on the head. I’m not sure why this is such a difficult concept for them. These are usually the same folk clamoring about an Islamic take-over of the country. The only way that would ever happen is if people like this school board get their way and eliminate separation of church and state, then make whatever brand of Christianity they prefer the official religion, and then lose power when a different religious group takes over. It’s like they can’t imagine ever not being the majority and needing the protection separation of church and state gives. And they believe that neutrality is the same as promoting atheism. It’s a mess-they can’t even “get it” when they are led through an exercise to try to have them gain some empathy/understanding of the situation (“imagine your children are attending a public school where Christians are the minority. Would you be ok with them being forced to utter an Islamic/Hindu/Jewish/anything not Christian prayer every day?”).

      • Leiningen’s Ants

        You’re giving their imagination too much credit..

  • Mick

    “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.”

    Sounds like an ego thing to me. Forget about the consequences of their actions; come next Sunday they can strut into church with their elbows back, head high, and chest puffed out while their peers hail them as brave little warriors in the army of the lord — until the legal bills come in and the school sports program has to be cancelled for lack of funds.

    • Matto the Hun

      Right on. An ego that has been exponentially amped up from a persecution complex that says any time Christians can’t have their way an only their way then they are being persecuted.

    • Guest

      Except that pretty much every other extracurricular–music, art, theater, etc.–gets cut before sports. Sometimes academic programs get less funds before anyone is willing to even reduce the amount of funding for sports, let alone cut them altogether.

      Not to say that you don’t know this, I just thought it bore pointing out again.

    • Sideshow_Billybob

      I was with ya until the sports program, unless you meant “everything but football.”

      • Derrik Pates

        FOOTBALL BRINGS IN MONEY!!!! And what about all the high school football players who will totes go pro! Come on!

    • TheG

      I think it is opening themselves to a huge litigation. He is saying he is going to ignore legal advice and do what he wants.

      • Derrik Pates

        But if they don’t know about it, they have an out, right? Ignorance of the law is an excuse, isn’t it?

        • TheG

          Willfully IGNORANT of the law is pretty big grounds for a civil suit.

  • David McNerney

    Wait, wait, wait. I’ve seen this one before… how does it end again…

    Oh yeah, in two weeks time after some reflection [and legal advice], there will be a climb down and prayer will be off the books again. And, of course, the mandatory persecution complex.

  • Cyrus Palmer

    And THIS was the best thing this school board has ever done? Yeah, it’s definitely time for a whole new board.

    • Art_Vandelay

      Exactly what I was thinking. When your crowning achievement as an organization is to skull-fuck the constitution, it may be time to reevaluate things.

      • 3lemenope

        skull-fuck the constitution

        This image will linger.

        • wmdkitty

          Yep. Can’t unsee.

  • Bitter Lizard

    I have no problem with thanking God at football games as long as He is held accountable when it doesn’t go so well.

    FUCK YOU JE-SUS. *clap clap clapclapclap*

    • 3lemenope

      The Holy Ghost runs superb pass screening, or so I’ve heard.

      • TnkAgn

        Red Grange, “The Galloping Ghost” was better, by most accounts.

    • Timmah

      We would of won if god hadnt made me drop the ball! >_<

      • Raising_Rlyeh

        We would have gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for that meddling Jesus and that pesky god.

        • Derrik Pates

          Holy Ghoooooost…. Hooooly ghoooooost….

          • Raising_Rlyeh

            Holy ghost take off that sheet.

    • Paul Reed

      Why did this make me think of Ted…?

    • Kevin_Of_Bangor

      Below is the song Speak to Him by Greydon Square and he addresses this. One of my favorite parts of the song.

    • viaten

      When it doesn’t go so well or they lose, that’s God building their character.

      • John

        When you win: “God loves us.”
        When you lose: “God works in mysterious ways.”

        • viaten

          But it’s always “God” doing something that will ultimately be for good, no matter how horrible the beating.

          • Randy Meyer

            I like to think that God is a gambling man. He just placed all his money on the other team.

            • viaten

              God can’t really be a “gambling man” if he can put in any kind of “fix” he wants. But maybe sometimes he just lets nature take it’s course, but he still knows how it will turn out.

    • SeekerLancer

      I want to see football games erupt into giant brawls in the stands over whose fans love god more.

    • NG

      George Carlin: “The good lord tripped me up behind the line of scrimmage.”

  • Timmah

    Follow up article containing the quote “I don’t see how people in Wisconsin can tell us how to live our lives!” in 3… 2… 1…

    • Jeff

      I totally agree with your comment, you know it is coming. However, rather than just accepting such an obvious event, I think we should start a pool. The trolls are pretty well known and predictable. So, how about we at least make it prophetable…oh, gee, sorry, sometimes it is hard to separate them, I meant profitable, for the readers? Guess the troll with the comment, win the pool.

  • Tainda

    Ick, Kansas.

    Kind of wish I were still in school and went to school in Kansas. Just to be a bitch, I would lead a satanic prayer.

    • abb3w

      Since Kansas is the birthplace of the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a Pastafarian prayer would seem more fitting.

      • Tainda

        So true! I actually work with a doc that is friends with the founder :)

    • Feminerd

      Heh. That’s how I convinced a few fundamentalists at my school to not even try.

      They were students, and I heard them discussing petitioning for using the Intercom for student-led prayers every morning. I know that’s illegal (and knew it them), but I still decided to have fun. Big wide excited-eyed me comes bouncing up to the group, “Prayers over the Intercom? Really? Oooh, that’s a great idea! You realize I can do it too, right? I can do Jewish ones, and Satanist ones, and the agnostic’s prayer (To any god or gods who may or may not exist, please don’t fuck with us today. Amen), and Muslim prayers, and …”.

      Killed that idea when they realized it wouldn’t be only Christian prayers, because I’d follow up on that threat. But I wasn’t on any sports teams, either, so I didn’t have anything to lose.

      • UWIR

        You’re a student? And from the sound of it, not a college student?

        • Feminerd

          In the past. I’m long past school days. I should, perhaps, have made that more clear.

        • wmdkitty

          You’re not the brightest crayon in the box, are you?

      • OhioAtheist

        And this is exactly what needs to happen. Once some non-Christians step up to the plate, wanting to say their prayers, see what happens.

    • Rationalist1

      Or just get a Catholic to lead them all in a decade of the Rosary. (Announce the mystery, then 1 Our Father, 10 Hail Mary’s and 1 Glory be to God ending off with the Fatima prayer). The fundamentalists would freak.

  • TnkAgn

    Kansas. The state that is literally flatter than a pancake is also flat-lined for rational thinking.

  • Gofa

    Dammit Kansas, why do you have to make it so hard to tell people I’m from you!?!

    • SadieDCupcake

      There, there. I live in Indiana. I get it.

    • Feminerd

      I’m from Texas. There’s a scary high number of states in the US that keep doing this shit.

    • storm

      I’m from Mississippi

      • Oswald Carnes

        As a native of Alabama, all I can say is thank god for Mississippi.

    • OkieAtheist

      Oklahoma. Enough said.

    • OhioAtheist

      Ohio here. We’ve got a science teacher burning crosses on a kid’s arm, and a catholic school firing a gym teacher because she’s a lesbian, which was discovered when a school parent read an obituary that listed her “partner.” It’s a great world we live in…

  • Minneapostate

    I just did a little Facebook digging, and it appears that the School Board President, Delvin Kinser, is also the News Director at Great Plains Christian Radio.

  • JET

    Coach: “Now boys, I would like to remind you of two things. First, you are allowed to initiate a prayer over the PA system prior to this Friday’s game. Second, I have not yet picked the starting lineup.”

  • Michael Davis

    Needs a secular kid to volunteer to read a bible passage before the game… then break into that very Matthew citation about praying in private.

  • Jeff Chang

    Well, time to make Liberal, Kansas the new refugee city for Muslim immirgrants. While we do that we need to make this place appealing to Wiccans and Pagans.
    Then perhaps start a Satanist Church.

  • Holytape

    FYI, The nickname “Redskins” is derived from the horrible sunburns that the fans, such as Nick Hatcher, get spending hours in the baking sun watching the football team practice. That has to be it. Because what are the odds that a small town in the midwest is both oblivious to their theocratic and racist natures.

  • God’s Starship

    This is, literally, why we can’t have nice things.

  • newavocation

    Just for background, Nick Hatcher is also on the First United Methodist Church board, and a gentleman named Tim Trommater is a Youth Minister there along with being a 6th grade teacher in the school district. So at least the kids will get some help drawing up some good prayers.

  • Beth

    GREAT! That means that an atheist student can read from a Hitchens Book…right?

    • Kevin_Of_Bangor


    • rwlawoffice

      Do it. Just like those that say they would get up and read a satanic prayer or something from the Koran. If they truly believe this, as student led message, they could do that. As one who supports student led and student initiated prayers at these functions, I would argue this could be done under the same standard that this is entirely student led and the content is chosen by the students. Even under Santa Fe these student led prayers are not inherently unconstitutional. They have been upheld if the school district has no policy on what can be said. Like the cheerleading case just recently where the banners with scriptures on them were upheld as being constitutional.

      • baal

        The cheerleading case was atypical in judge and procedural posture. I also think there is a second case with a more normal posture out to collaterally attack the decision

      • Tainda

        The deeper problem is the kid who does do something different than a Christian prayer would be terrorized. I’m sure you don’t believe that in your white bread, privileged majority worldview but it’s true.

      • Oswald Carnes

        Sorry you aren’t experiencing the eternal bliss of paradise yet. Hope you make it there soon!

        • Tainda

          Well that was uncalled for

  • aoscott

    Heh and they’re called the “Redskins”

    • TnkAgn

      Perhaps then, they should direct their prayers to the great Wakan Tanka.

  • SeekerLancer

    In other news a school board in Kansas will soon likely be facing a lawsuit.

  • DougI

    Maybe FFRF can put an ad out that there’s a scholarship for a student who sues the school district over the forced prayers.

  • Fred

    They are talking about something illegal and then saying where there’s a will theres a way??!?!

    How does this sound?, “She doesn’t want to have sex with me, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

    It’s ok to be a criminal as long as you’re doing it for god?

    Someone call the schools liability insurance company and let them know that they’re going to need to make a big payout soon.

    • UWIR

      It sounds like someone who was read The Little Engine The Could as a child and never realized that in the real world, you can’t just will the universe into complying with your wishes.
      “I think I can defy well-settled Constitutional law without consequence, I think I can, I think I can…”

      • Derrik Pates

        More like “I don’t know if there have been cases where this has been decided, and if I don’t ask a lawyer, I don’t have to know! And hey, it’s not like the entire world will hear about it…”

  • plum grenville

    Who is going to choose the students who lead a prayer? It can’t be school officials or it becomes (even more clearly) government-sanctioned speech; the school would then be able to exercise censorship through their choice.
    If the students choose, they would also have to avoid censoring unpopular religious views. So voting is out. That leaves choosing the lot or allowing everyone who wanted to pray to do so. Both of those methods would be content-neutral.

    • UWIR

      Not only are they going to have to have a completely student-led, non-discriminatory method of choosing students for the prayer, they also need for the public address system to be built by a student-led construction project.

  • ShoeUnited

    Well. At least the superintendent of schools doesn’t have his head crammed up his epistles. I sympathize with him. Sometimes you just have to watch the kids stick that fork in the outlet for them to learn their lesson.

  • Ron

    And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing . . . on the street corners to be seen by others. . . . But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. . . . And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them.” Matthew 6:5-8


    “Don’t be that guy.” ~Jesus

  • scroogleu

    I can’t be the first to think of this, but this town just opened itself to a prayer addressing the Church of the Great Flying Spaghetti Monster! It’s time for Pastafarians to go there and rally!

  • Robster

    To support equality, if they’re going to do the pray nonsense at this “school”, why not invite an Astrologer to pop in and read a few horoscopes? The kids would enjoy a laugh and it would be more inclusive, they could read all 12 star signs and cover everybody.

  • allein

    “We can make a board decision, as long as it’s student-led, to support prayer.”

    OK, they need to take out the clause in the middle, and reread the sentence: “We can make a board decision to support prayer.”

    Calling it “student-led” does not change the fact that this is the school board supporting school prayer. No.