Now Let Us Pray… Or Not.

Now Let Us Pray… Or Not.

Sophia Almanza, Writer

Recently, Arab High School senior Ian Davis received a rejection letter from his superintendent denying his request to open a  home football game with a prayer over the public address system.

Arab City Schools superintendent John Mullins justified his decision by citing the verdict reached in the case of Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe in 2000. In this case, a Texas school board brought forth the claim that a prayer at a public school event, because the pregame message at the football games was voted on by the student body, was considered private speech and was therefore protected under the First Amendment. However, the Supreme Court ruled that it would not be considered private speech but actually an endorsement of religious speech by a governmental organization.

“I have analyzed Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe for many hours,” stated Davis, who is currently looking to sue the Arab City School Board for violating his First Amendment rights. Davis went on to explain that in order to remain in accordance with the conclusion drawn in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, the school administration would plainly have to allow people from each religion the same opportunity to speak through a public forum. “Saying a prayer doesn’t force anyone into a specific religion, a prayer is a prayer to whichever God you choose to worship regardless of your religion.”

Several students, including those at Bob Jones, follow reasoning similar to that of Davis.

“We have been given the right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Not allowing students to pray before games would be like taking away our rights. If a student does not support the same religion as the majority of the team, it’s not like they are forced to participate. They could pray if they wanted to,” responded one freshman, who also shared that he has participated in student-led prayers before swim team meets and practices.

However, there are also students who make note of how decisions like these affect those who may not subscribe to Christianity or any religion at all, for that matter.

Another student expressed, “Their religious freedom is important, but in leading a prayer they may be making other students of different religious backgrounds uncomfortable. I’ve always lived in pretty conservative towns and have struggled with feeling like I don’t belong there because I’m not religious.”

A majority of students interviewed explained how they believe both the right for students to initiate and lead prayer, as well as the right to express discontent if one feels uncomfortable are protected by the First Amendment.

For the past 33 years, Kent Chambers has been a teacher at Bob Jones High School. For 30 of these years, he has been a coach. He voiced his belief that while he personally believes that a student’s request to lead prayer at a school event should not be denied, he also stands in the belief  “that every citizen must follow the law established by our legislators and interpreted by The Supreme Court.” The Supreme Court will likely be addressing this conversation again, Chambers suggested. Throughout the years, he has been able to witness a changing school environment.

“Early on in my life and career, praying was commonplace in school. It was expected. But now certain organizations feel there is a problem with it. My thoughts to those organizations are ‘if it isn’t affecting you, why complain?’ I strongly believe prayer should be put back in schools.”

Whether or not prayer should be “put back in schools” may not be the question to ask in this moment. Rather, maybe the question should be about how the Arab City School Board’s decision reflects a changing political and social atmosphere in the country.

“I wish to bring unity within the student body, stand up for students around the country, and assist students in having a voice,” Davis declared as his hopes for the outcome of the work he is putting forth in pursuing his case further.

Within the next couple of months, Ian Davis – with fourteen others – plans to file a class action lawsuit against Arab City Schools Board of Education, he tells WAAY 31 in an interview.