The DeSoto County School District (DCS) has been asked again by a Wisconsin group to stop what it terms “unconstitutional prayer” at school functions.
The group, Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), based in Madison, Wisconsin, last month wrote DCS Supt. Cory Uselton to ask the district take steps to ensure prayer is not scheduled at school functions.
Associate counsel Sam Grover wrote in the letter to Uselton, dated June 20, that district students had reached out to the organization regarding what he termed several “constitutional violations” that took place in district schools during the last school year.
Specifically, Grover cited reports of what he said was “scheduled prayer” at a May 14 Olive Branch High School senior breakfast that “began with the class president using a microphone to ‘say grace’ by asking all attendees to ‘bow your heads and close your eyes,’ and then recited a prayer.”
Grover said one of those who complained said there was no option provided to allow people to leave the room while the prayer was recited.
He went on to cite a similar report of a prayer said at a Hernando High School senior breakfast at the Landers Center during school hours.
The FFRF associate counsel also wrote it has received complaints of students being allowed to lead prayer over the public address system before Olive Branch High School home football games.
Grover noted that Supreme Court rulings have determined that it is illegal, inappropriate and unconstitutional for public schools to broadcast prayers at athletic events. He went on to cite other decisions stating that no school-sponsored event may include scheduled prayer, stating that having the activity would allow attendees to perceive that religion and Christianity in particular was being endorsed by the school or school district.
Grover concluded the June letter by asking steps be taken to ensure prayer is not scheduled at future DCS-sponsored events and that Uselton detail back to FFRF what steps it is taking in that regard.
This is not the first time the foundation has contacted the DeSoto County School District about prayer in activities.
Then-Supt. Milton Kuykendall received a letter from FFRF in 2011 about prayer being said before football games at DCS schools. A board policy was approved that prevented a pre-game prayer being recited over the loudspeaker.
Another board policy had been passed in 2008 addressing Prayer in Schools.
However, fans seized the opportunity that fall to pray outside the stadiums or in the stands recite the Lord’s Prayer after the National Anthem and before the start of the game.
Kuykendall also had to deal with another complaint that year from the group about Bibles being distributed by Gideons at two district elementary schools.
Uselton was asked about the most recent communication from FFRF and responded in a statement, “We have board policies in place that protect students’ constitutional right to pray, and we will continue to follow those policies.”
When contacted Friday morning, Grover said he had not received a response from the school district about the June letter.
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.