The school has been threatened with a lawsuit by a Wisconsin organization over its practice of prayers delivered over the public address system during home football games. The Haralson County School System chose to end that tradition this year rather than face litigation.
“The Haralson County School System strives to provide the best learning environment possible for all of our students,” Superintendent Brett Stanton said in a prepared statement. “We have recently been faced with the threat of legal action regarding prayer from the public address system before home football games. Personally, it saddens me since my faith is a very important part of my life.
“However, 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 until the laws are changed, we will abide by the guidelines set forth by the Constitution of the United States.”
The decision to discontinue the PA prayers, effective this season, was made after the Haralson County Board of Education received a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation that said the prayer was unconstitutional.
The Rev. Mason Bush, pastor at Providence Baptist Church in Tallapoosa, had been the team chaplain for 15 years, but stepped down this year. He’ll no longer be leading prayers on the field, in the field house or over the PA system. Neither will coaches.But the law doesn’t prevent the students from leading prayers.
“By state law, prayer can still be led by students, and that’s what will happen here Friday night,” Bush said. “The children have taken it upon themselves to stand up for what they believe in. Students from the football team, the band and the cheer team have all volunteered to lead prayer on Friday night.
“I’m sad to say the lawsuit started here four years ago because of me holding prayer. Some people moved here from out of state and didn’t like what we were doing. This year, it’s all come to a head, so I will not be leading the prayers anymore.”
“I think the Christians’ rights are being violated,” said Tallapoosa City Councilman Dan Pope, who was an educator for 29 years. “This country was founded by Christians, our forefathers were Christians, some of them were even ministers. We’ve always had prayer before the games. It saddens me this is the point we’ve gotten to in our country when a minority can tell the majority what they’re going to do.”
Pope said he is encouraging “everyone” to attend tonight’s game and join the students in prayer.
Providence Baptist Church is still providing meals for the team, at a cost of $5,000 a year. Parents have signed waivers allowing their children to attend the meal at the church. The stipulation remains, however, that the pastor cannot say anything while the team is there.
“But some of the boys have stepped up and led prayer themselves,” Bush said. “I’m so proud these kids are fighting for what they believe in.”
Bush and others have contacted state lawmakers and invited them to tonight’s game to see the students demonstrate their support for a state action in support of school prayer.
“It breaks my heart to know one or two voices have come to dictate for a whole community,” Bush said. “But since this has happened, I’ve seen our community come together. People from all religions are going to stand up and fight this.”
The Rev. Jason Hatchett, pastor First Baptist Church in Tallapoosa, said he has begun to seek legal advice from the Liberty Council to explore options against the potential lawsuit.
“We just want to see what our options are to approach it in the proper way,” he said. “In general, we’re just tired of being run over. I’d like to see people come together and say ‘no’ to the government telling us what we can and can’t do.
“It’s a freedom issue. Anyone should be able to pray, no matter what religion they are. Stiffling all of it really isn’t an option.”