The Harrison County School Board in West Virginia issued a memo on Wednesday instructing coaches to ban prayer at school sponsored events effective immediately. All staff is required to sign the memo.
The prayer ban was enacted in response to a complaint received by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which indicated it had obtained information that a high school athletic team in the county led a prayer and asked other teams to join, WDTV reports.
According to the FFRF, the issue is one of separation of church and state. School sponsored prayer in public schools is prohibited under U.S. Supreme Court rules. Students, however, are permitted to participate in prayer on their own, but no school officials, including coaches, administrators, teachers or employees are allowed to lead a prayer session.
Assistant Harrison County Superintendent of Schools Anthony Fratto, who wrote the memo, expressed his displeasure in having to do so, “I’m frustrated by it, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do. If that’s the law, I can’t in good conscience leave the school board exposed to legal penalties down the road. We don’t need the financial penalty and bad press that comes with that,” according to Connect Bridgeport.
Apparently this particular incident involved a student who individually initiated the prayer session, but according to Fratto, “the fact that a student was leading the prayer did not cure the constitutional violation.”
Many local residents expressed their opposition to the decision. Upshur County resident Linda Long said, "I'm not a fan of that. I believe that anyone who wants to say a prayer, or any student that wants to say a prayer should have that right. I do not believe that any of that should be governed by schools," WDTV reports.
Bridgeport soccer player Imoni Saab stated, "It upsets me that it's kind of a discussion to be open at all." "It doesn't affect me too much because I don't think that right should ever be taken away from me so it's not really going to stop me at all." Saab indicated that she believes most of her teammates will continue to pray despite the controversy.