Communities unite to recite The Lord’s Prayer in protest of recent decision by Lee Co. BOE

Sept. 28, 2017

By Mark Clark

The Lee County Board of Education, at the direction of the Huntsville based law firm of Lanier Ford Shaver and Payne in a letter on Sept. 11, has instructed its schools to not allow student-led prayers before athletic events. The decision was made after an Opelika parent who attended the Smiths Station High season opening high school football game with the Bulldogs filed a complaint with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, saying the parent was offended.

But Friday night at Garrett-Harrison Stadium before the annual Backyard Brawl game between rival schools Smiths Station and Central, the student sections of both schools recited The Lord’s Prayer loud and clear to express their feelings about the unpopular decision.

Lee County Superintendent Dr. Mac McCoy, according to the letter responding to the complaint that was signed by attorney William Sanderson stated, he had informed the principals he expects all Lee County schools to comply with current law with respect to prayer at football games held in Lee County.

“The school system was facing litigation that we felt as though would not rule in our favor, if we continued with prayer over our public address system,” Dr. McCoy said in a statement issued last week. “Our response to the demand letter has been slightly delayed due to our conversations with legal counsel and conducting research on the matter. I was simply trying to find a way for our students to continue to do what they have been doing with student-led prayer. Unfortunately, I was not successful in that matter.”

Smiths Station has had student-led prayer before its games for years while Central has opted for a moment of silence. The moment of silence on Friday night was when the student bodies of both schools made their statement. The event was spread through the two communities through the social media website Facebook. News stations attended from as far away as Atlanta. FOX 5’s Natalie Fultz reported live from the stadium for the channel’s 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. broadcasts. The story has also been picked up by the Associated Press and has gained national coverage.

The news site ran stories about the ban as well.

“The issue isn’t praying before the game. It’s how it’s being done. The Freedom From Religion Foundation says the school has broken the law because they are allowing students to use the school’s equipment and also they have allotted a specific time for this prayer to take place. Now the community says they have been doing this for decades and they’re pretty upset,” Fultz said in her early report.

Students and parents of the schools asked those who attended the contest to recite the prayer following the Central alma mater and the moment of silence. After the emotional moment, the crowd on both sides of the stadium erupted in applause for the youngsters.

Most people asked about the demonstration sided with the students saying government, the courts nor outside groups had any business trying to dictate the community standards and morals of Smiths Station and Phenix City. The Opelika-Auburn News reported Beauregard High also stood to recite The Lord’s Prayer at its Homecoming game with Talladega High. The stadium announcer informed the crowd of the prayer ban and then told those in attendance they could recite The Lord’s Prayer at the third strike of the drum, if they so desired, the newspaper stated.

The Lee County BOE received a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation after the Opelika parent’s complaint. The letter stated, “The District must take immediate action to end the practice of scheduling prayer at school-sponsored events and end the use of District equipment to project prayers to the public.” The board was threatened with a lawsuit if the prayers did not stop as directed. The organization, from Madison, Wisc., cited several decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding student prayer in its Aug. 31 letter. The Smiths Station-Opelika game was Aug. 25.

More student and parent demonstrations against the decision to ban the student-led prayer are expected in weeks to come. Smiths Station students have invited those who wish to pray to gather around the fence at Panther Stadium in a prayer line with the possible use of a student-owned megaphone being used to recite a prayer for the safety of the players as the students have done over the years.