smiths station high Lee County (Ala.) Schools
Student-led prayer at a Smiths Station High School football game led to a complaint.

Alabama district ends practice of student-led prayer at football games

Lee County district says it will stop the prayers after receiving a complaint from a group advocating separation of church and state.

A complaint from a group advocating separation of church and state has prompted the Lee County (Ala.) School District to end its practice of student-led prayer over the public address system before football games.

The Opelika-Auburn News reports that the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter last month to Lee County School Superintendent James McCoy on behalf of a parent that contacted the organization about a student-led prayer at Smiths Station High School's season-opening game.

The letter cited several U.S. Supreme Court decisions on the issue of school prayer.

"It is illegal for a public school to sponsor religious messages at school athletic events," the letter stated. "...the Supreme court has specifically struck down invocations given over the loudspeaker at public school athletic events, even when student-led."

Lee County, through its attorney, issued a statement: “Dr. McCoy has informed his principals that he expects all Lee County Schools to comply with current law with respect to prayer at football games held on Lee County Schools property.”

McCoy also issued a statement:

“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. Our response to the demand letter has been slightly delayed due to our conversations with legal counsel and conducting research on this 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 endeavor."

Sherry Paysinger, athletic director at Smiths Station High School, says the school has conducted student-led prayers before football games for many years. A student who is a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes wrote and read the prayer at the Aug. 25 game.

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