By Sandhya Bathija
A Tennessee public school has done the right thing and agreed to stop broadcasting Christian prayers over the loudspeaker at football games and graduation ceremonies.
After students complained to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the group sent a letter to school officials asking them to discontinue the unconstitutional practice.
Hamilton County Schools Superintendent issued an order to halt the prayers, and yesterday Soddy-Daisy High School Principal John Maynard promised that he would.
“Now that we have citizens in our community protesting,” Maynard told the Associated Press, “we need to notify our principals to follow the law based on numerous court cases.”
Of course, for many in the Chattanooga-area community, this is an unwelcome decision – even for a school board member who should know better.
Hamilton County Board of Education member Rhonda Thurman, who represents Soddy-Daisy, said the prayers were part of the school’s tradition, and that anyone who didn’t want to hear them could “put their fingers in their ears.”
She told the AP , “Everybody is offended by something. I’m offended by a lot of those little girls running around with their thong panties showing, but I can’t make that go away.”
Parent Jim Rogers complained that his child’s free speech rights are being violated.
“People who find Christianity contrary to their beliefs shouldn’t be offended that [Christians] have the freedom to express their religious beliefs,” he said.
It’s a shame that these people just don’t get it.
Claiming that students can just “put their fingers in their ears” doesn’t change the fact that the school is unfairly and unconstitutionally favoring one particular religion. Students of all faiths and none should feel welcome at school. They should not feel like outcasts because school officials forget that it’s their duty is to remain neutral on the topic of religion. Parents should determine what faith their children practice, not school officials.
Students have the right to voluntarily practice their faith in public schools so long as it does not disrupt others or interrupt class time. But school officials cannot give preferential treatment to one religious belief by allowing only Christian prayers to be broadcast over the loudspeakers.
Fortunately, the Constitution has not been lost on everyone in Hamilton County, Tenn.
Michael Dzik, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga, said it’s the school’s responsibility to make all students feel welcome.
“I think that the [school] administration needs to be very sensitive to these types of things,” he said. “This is not a Jewish issue, this is not a Christian issue. It’s a people issue, and having a basic respect for other people and their beliefs.”
If only everyone could see it that way.