For the past 50 years or so the Friday night football games at Haralson County High School in Tallapoosa, Georgia have started the same way, with prayer, most recently offered by the team's chaplain, a local minister. But September 7 the tradition of reverence and faith came to a screeching halt as the school district's superintendent, Brett Stanton, caved in to the intimidation of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which demanded that the school stop allowing prayer over the football stadium's PA system. A year earlier the district had received the customary letter of warning from FFRF attorney Stephanie Schmitt declaring that “it is illegal for a public school to organize, sponsor and lead prayers at public high school athletic events.”
The FFRF's intrusion came as the result of complaints by Frank and Sarah Mcintire, a local couple whose son plays on the football team. According to the CBS News affiliate in Atlanta, the Mcintires “explained they just felt uncomfortable with some of the messages they were forced to hear before the game.” The couple claimed the complaint was all about honoring the Constitution. “We didn't mean for it to get this far," said Frank Mcintire. “All we wanted was to abide by the Supreme Court ruling.... It's been totally blown out of proportion....”
Of course, that is not the view of the FFRF, which considered it a victory when the school board decided to trash the 50-year tradition based on the atheist group's tenuous claim that the Constitution's First Amendment bars local communities from sanctioning prayer in their schools or government meetings. In response to the FFRF letter, the board decided it would be better to cave in to the atheist group's demands rather than face a potential lawsuit — which the FFRF often threatens but seldom follows through on.
“We have recently been faced with the threat of legal action regarding prayer from the public address system before home football games,” Stanton explained in a prepared statement. “Personally, it saddens me since my faith is a very important part of my life.” Nonetheless, he added, “from a professional standpoint and as the superintendent of the Haralson County Schools, I have a responsibility to protect the school system from litigation. This is very difficult for our board members, employees and for me, but … we will abide by the guidelines set forth by the Constitution of the United States” — as interpreted to them by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
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